Chantelle Nicholson, group operations director, Marcus Wareing

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th December 2014
Chantelle Nicholson swapped her career as a lawyer in New Zealand for the chance to pursue her passion for cooking in London. After applying for the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship her time came when at the final she was offered a job there and then by Josh Emett, head chef at the time at Marcus’ The Savoy Grill. Now operations director for Marcus Wareing, Chantelle looks after three of his restaurants: Tredwell’s, The Gilbert Scott and Marcus; working closely with Marcus, who she believes is showing his true self on the current series of Masterchef The Professionals 2014.Shake Shack Xmas Menu 2.12.14 We spoke to her about her involvement in the restaurants, her inspiration and her thoughts on reviewing sites like Tripadvisor. What made you make the move from being a lawyer into cookery? For me it wasn’t really a thought process about what I’d do after I finished school; it was just a matter of go to university. I wasn’t 100% sure on what I wanted to do so I decided to study law. So yeah, it was just a pull I couldn’t stop, really. I had a real passion for cooking and food that I just could not shake off. In my second year at university I decided to do something about it. You said you had a passion for cookery, were you doing anything while you were training to be a lawyer? About midway through university I started working – I just went into a café and gave them my CV and said “I have no experience, but I really want to cook” and they gave me a chance, which was fantastic. Tredwell's interiorI spent time there developing my skills and then the next year went to work at a restaurant. I ended up working full time, cooking while I was studying. After finishing my degrees and working for about 6 months I thought I should give what I’ve spent five years studying a go, which I then did for about a year in practice. I entered the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship competition and got through to the final, where I met Josh, who was the head chef of The Savoy Grill and he offered me a job there and then. So you didn’t have London in mind, the opportunity just arose? I was always going to come to London, because it’s something kiwis always do. So I had that in the back of my mind, but obviously the opportunity for this job was too good to turn down. So I jumped on board thinking, I’ll give it two years and see what happens, and I’m still here 10 years later! Do you have a close working relationship with Marcus? Yes, obviously having been with him for ten years we’ve been through quite a lot, just in terms of how the businesses have changed and how he’s changed as a person. Coming from the kitchen, I have the same mentality as him, so it’s a lot easier to understand what he wants and the way to go about getting that. Marcus has produced four books, did you have an input in these?
What’s the worst customer you ever had to deal with? Probably the worst ones are when they’re rude and derogatory to the team and look down upon waiters. It’s whenever they make it personal towards the team that we draw a line. What are your top service experiences? Mugaritz Per Se in New York Arzak in San Sebastián Alinea in Chicago
Yes, I’ve been a part of three of them. We did the first one about seven years ago (One Perfect Ingredient…), then Nutmeg and Custard and then The Gilbert Scott book, which was last year. How do you think he’s doing on Masterchef, is it showing him in a good light? I think it’s showing the real him, which I don’t think has been previously shown before. It’s quite interesting reading all the twitter comments saying how people were really unsure about him at first and thought he was horrible and nasty, and were then actually really surprised. I don’t know if it’s just the way former TV episodes of him were cut, showing his more aggressive side, but yes, I think he’s doing really well and it’s great to see his change from two weeks ago to this week and see how he’s getting a lot more comfortable with the role. Would you say there’s a gap between front of house and the kitchen or is it not really like that nowadays? I think from my perspective, because I’ve come from the kitchen and now I’m in a front-facing role, it’s very important to me there’s no front of house versus back of house; that everyone works as a team. When I started out it was quite apparent that there was a big disparity; there was all the in-house fighting and bickering, but I think it has moved on. Front of house for me is a much more difficult role because you’re dealing with people, whereas in a kitchen, you can come to work know what you’ve got to do and know what has to happen. For a front of house person, everything has to be a bit more 360, rather than looking at things from one angle. Marcus WareingWould you say, then that the customer is always right? I think the customer’s always right in terms of the fact they always have an opinion.  I always reiterate to my teams; we may not agree with what they’re upset about but the main thing is they’re upset, and that’s not what we want for customers in our restaurant to feel. So to turn that around, I think saying that the customer is always right is slightly outdated; if they’re feeling aggrieved, then we need to do something about that. What are your thoughts on online bloggers and sites like TripAdvisor? I think TripAdvisor is a tricky one. Restaurants are so subjective that it’s a very difficult thing to be objective about this. If you look at hotels there are a number of objective criteria: the cleanliness, state of repair etc whereas in a restaurant, most of it’s subjective, for example if you don’t like that waiter because of personal reasons or if you don’t like the food because it’s not to your taste. TripAdvisor is love or hate and I think for us it’s another tool. I wouldn’t say I support it, but it’s something we have to deal with. What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps? I think it’s all down to hard work. If you really want something then you’ve got to put the time and effort into it and you have to make sacrifices for it as well. Commitment can go a long way and I think in this day and age, loyalty as well because it creates opportunities from within. As someone that runs three restaurants, I would say that if I had a very loyal staff member then I would do more to try and develop them than I would for someone that wasn’t as committed as others. I think if you’ve got the determination and you’re willing to put in the hard work, then you’ll succeed. Who would you say your greatest inspirations have been?CN AW TO USE Marcus has been a big inspiration and what’s been inspiring about him is the way that he’s changed himself. He’s always been humble enough to be open to change and to admit that we can all get better at what we do, in some way. If you look at the journey he’s taken in the past ten years and the way kitchens used to be ran versus the way they are ran now he’s been very proactive about those changes. What are your plans for the next five years? I’m very happy where I am. We’ve just opened Tredwell’s, we had a refurb of Marcus which we completely redefined; so that’s keeping us very busy for now. For us, it’s about developing our teams; that’s what we really want to focus on in the next five years, so we can move forward. How do you feel about Michelin stars? Are you consciously working towards them? No, I think we’re very happy with the two stars with Marcus and very happy to retain them with the refurbishment. We’re in our fourth year at the moment with the Gilbert Scott and that’s still moving forward; that’s a very grand building so if stars did happen then then we’d be very happy about that. Michelin is a very respected accolade, so I think it’s important. The Bib Gourmand is very important as well, so we’d love to be included in that category for Tredwell’s.

In these challenging times…

…the hospitality landscape has dramatically changed in the last two months, and with that our advertising revenues have all but expired, significantly impacting our business. Despite having to furlough a large portion of our staff, we are still delivering the valuable content and honest information, which hundreds of thousands of you come to The Staff Canteen for. We believe we have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs, are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector.

Your financial support means we remain independent and open to all. We were launched by a chef and remain the voice of chefs and other hospitality professionals.

We need your support to keep delivering the products and content that you love, giving you the platform to share opinions and inspiration. Every contribution whether big or small, means so much.
Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th December 2014

Chantelle Nicholson, group operations director, Marcus Wareing