Jeremy Ford, Culinary Director, Restaurant Associates

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd May 2012
Jeremy Ford started his career studying at the Academy of Culinary Arts, where he received classical culinary training with some of the industry’s top chefs. After this he spent three years at the three Michelin starred restaurant Chez Nico. In 1997 Jeremy moved to work with the Roux Fine Dining group, part of the Restaurant Associates. He often works alongside Albert Roux to this day. He worked his way up the ranks at the Restaurant Associates and was responsible for Restaurant TwentyFour, Vertigo, and other food outlets at Tower 42. In 2004 Jeremy went to Thames Valley University to do a degree in International Gastronomy, in order to develop his own knowledge and inspire new ideas. In 2005 Jeremy became a member of the Academy of Culinary Arts, which involved Jeremy working with a local school to develop their knowledge of food.   Jeremy Ford give us an overview of your role, job title, operations, number of people in the team that type of thing. I’m the culinary director which is a very posh title for group chef!. I have a team of several other group chefs in each area of the business because Restaurant Associates is so diverse. So my job is to lead that team of chefs, developing training opportunities, new food concepts and opening new sites amongst many other things. So how many chefs do you oversee? I've got direct reporting line of six group Chefs, including a specialist in fine dining, one in employee dining and delis, a development chef and other national account chefs. How many chefs does RA employee? We’ve got over 200 kitchens in Restaurant Associates and when I say kitchens that's everything from the kitchen at Roux at Parliament Square or Rhodes 24, so restaurant fine dining kitchens to a kitchen like the one im in now in a city bank, which essentially produces food for a dozen private dining rooms. And then we've got kitchens that supply food courts and deli bars. So very, very diverse. In total over 400 chefs currently   In terms of menu development you obviously have different concepts for different aspects of the business, do you work on all of those or do you cascade it down to your senior team as well? I work on all of them but we work collectively as a team also. The best ideas come from good brainstorming sessions with like minded chefs who feel empowered to be creative we're busy at the moment increasing what we call our core portfolio. There are certain things in our business which we're quite prescriptive about, we want a very high consistent standard over certain things and there are other things where we give our chefs a lot more freedom and autonomy on their menus. In Our true fine dining sites where we're employing chefs from Michelin star restaurant backgrounds, of course we do not write their menus for them because that would be bonkers right? We employ great chefs, we give them the tools they need to do the job, i.e. good suppliers, the right equipment, the right support and then we allow them to do what they do best but what we do is we put a minimum standard for a certain level of consistency on things like buffet food or finger food or working lunches. For hospitality we do a lot of development and then for employee restaurants we do even more development. We've got an offer that rotates throughout all our employee restaurant kitchens, we have a global food offer and every quarter we develop a new concept for that. So for example right now we're just developing a Creole concept. So we're thinking about all the classic Louisiana style dishes like jambalaya, gumbo and dirty rice. How important, is cost management because when you've got over 200 kitchens you've only got to be a very small fraction out in all of those and that's a big knock on effect on the buying bill? It’s super important. I mean if you ask any chef in this economic climate they’ll tell you it’s super important. And it’s just about different levels in our business our employee restaurants where the tariffs are really low, perhaps somebody might only be paying £3.50 to £5 for their lunch obviously that gives you a very tight food cost to work with. In those accounts the chefs and the managers have to be really on the ball with their food costs. And in hospitality and fine dining, I'm not saying it’s not important because it is, for sure, they’ve all got budgets, they might have not a GP to achieve like you do in commercial restaurants but they’ve still got budgets set by the clients . Our job is to ensure they watch the pennies but never at the cost of quality. How also important is things to you like food miles and food waste? It’s very topical at the moment waste is a big thing and in a number of ways, that's over-ordering, lost energy through storing food that you don’t need, overcooking, waste, disposal of waste, packaging, I know you’re sat there in your whites but have you got to take all that into account and how do you manage that? What you’re talking about there is basically social responsibility it’s a massive, massive, massive subject and I could talk to you about it for days. Well it’s big at the moment isn’t it? It’s really on vogue at the moment. I mean just take one of those topics, thinking about food miles and supporting local products and local producers now that's really important to us as a business. It’s one of the things that we are quite proud of, in London we take full advantage of some amazing suppliers and food producers like Neals Yard for our cheeses, Secretts Farm for produce, we also have a commitment to sourcing an element of our food from within 50 miles radius of each site. Are you able to do that on a big scale? Yes we are definitely. We cant say that everything we use in our kitchen is local? I don’t think many could, for sure you purchase locally what is produces locally but as far as I know we are not growing lemons, pineapples or bananas yet! But what we can say is what we've developed over the years is a really great supply chain so we've got some great local suppliers and local producers which we buy from, we're sitting at the moment we buy some of our breads from a baker down in Greenwich, so Paul Rhodes Bakery he's like a couple of miles away and we use secretts Farm based down in Surrey which is only 50 miles. We're lucky because being part of Compass we can tap into the economies of scale in terms of purchasing but they do allow us as a separate Sector to develop our own local supply chain also One thing you mentioned earlier you've got Roux at Parliament Square, you've got Rhodes 24 great city clients, is it a frustration of yours that you’re serving some very high profile clients but people maybe don’t see how good your food is because it’s not in the public domain? How do you counteract that? How do you attract chefs to your business? That's not a frustration for me personally, it may be for some of our younger head chefs that know they are producing Michelin quality food that will never publicly be recognised All chefs like recognition don’t they though?  I was going to say, it’s quite contentious, but most chefs are glory hunters aren’t they Yeah well they like badges, they like rosettes because it’s a mark of where they are and they can benchmark against, “I've got two rosettes, etc etc It doesn’t frustrate me that they can’t achieve accolades in that sense, they can't have a Michelin star in the private dining because they just can't, its not open to the public, but what is an even better mark of a great chef is when you constantly get great feedback and thanks from a captured market, i.e. their customers are their everyday. But I'll interview chefs who’ve got a Michelin star and they’ll say it’s a great draw for staff because they’ve got a star. The great draw for staff and for us is that we work with Michel Roux Jnr, Albert Roux OBE, Jason Atherton and Gary Rhodes We are the only contract caterer at the moment that can actually say we have two restaurants with a Michelin star but when I interview a chef and I tell them that and I talk to them about how we work with people like Michel Roux Jnr, Jason Atherton. I can demonstrate that it is real , that these guys are not just chefs putting their names to what we do they help us with training, they help us with food development, so I can sit in front of a chef and employ them and tell them all those positives and also show them our food. But you need to get the chef over the threshold first don’t you? You need to bring him in before you can show him that? Of course you do. So I don’t have a frustration about accolades, I have a frustration that there's still a lot of stigma attached to contract catering. I even dislike the word. it’s come such a long way in the last five even the last ten years, my frustration is that we're not taken as seriously as commercial restaurants that are in the limelight It’s the name, I've always said that, it’s the name you just envisage these big lines of bain Maries People think pie and mash, not that there's anything wrong with pie and mash by the way,  if it’s the best pie and mash you've ever eaten, but that's frustration and that's one of the reasons we really encourage our guys to enter the national competitions such as The Roux Scholarship, it raises our profile even further. It makes me really proud that we had a Winner of the Roux Scholarship and have had finalists since, we were the first contract caterer to do so. We've had people in the finals of the National Chef of the Year. Another guy in the final of the British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year. So they get their good exposure through different routes. Last question for you then lots and lots of clients to service what would you say at the moment is the food trend? What are your clients asking you for most? Where are you seeing the trend go? I think there's a couple of things happening and it’s slightly different for us because whilst we have to watch future food trends and what’s happening in the restaurant world our clients are very demanding, in many cases where we serve fine dining, if our customers are not dining with us that day, they will probably be dining at Galvin, Gavroche, Jason Atherton or any other of the very best restaurants in London, so that’s their benchmark and for that reason it has to be ours. I think in terms of trends there's definitely a requirement for going back to less formal, more casual dining and that's a trend in restaurants that we're seeing. I'm a big fan of this we're seeing some great bistros and brasseries opening up. If you think about places like Les Deux Salons and Arbutus and Wild Honey and think about what Galvin did with The Bistrot, that's become a trend, Terroir is another one, all those amazing French bistros and brasseries. Are you able to replicate that? We're able to replicate and even take it to the next stage I think. I think there's a demand for it because it’s trendy, there's also a demand for it because it’s lower cost, it’s lower recharge cost because you don’t need extravagant ingredients and extravagant cuts and it’s quicker, it’s more casual dining, so less and less of our customers have an hour and a half, two hours for lunch nowadays, a lot of them have half an hour, 45 minutes, so rather than come in and have a formally served three course meal with canapés, pre-desert and everything else, they can come in and have a simple two course meal that's incredibly tasty, equally as good, they’re just less fussy. And its comfort food, its food that everybody can identify with. Which must make it very interesting and diverse for you? Massively, So some of those companies are quite modern, cutting edge companies so their expectation of us is they want a very contemporary dining experience so they’re expecting us to be similar to, Sat Bains, Simon Rogan and Jason Atherton, their expectation of our food is that we should be doing the same. So those are two quite opposite things but they’re two trends that we’re seeing and the thing that keeps it interesting, as you said, such diverse customer base which is great… And that makes it interesting too. Well thank you very much. Pleasure. Great to come and talk to you.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd May 2012

Jeremy Ford, Culinary Director, Restaurant Associates