My Career History and How I Achieved My Dream
Where it at all began
I am an Essex boy from Dagenham and went to what was Thurrock Technical College (now Thurrock and Basildon College) to study catering. Whilst at college in my first year, my work experience placement was at the Lanesborough Hotel in Hyde Park. It was amazing; a beautiful place, great chefs and wonderful food. The Head Chef, who was a fantastic, talented guy with a very calm management style, offered me a job when I was just 17. It was such a great start to my career, to work in such a prestigious place with a great team. Many of the team have gone on to be great chefs themselves. This experience really put me in good stead for what was to follow. I look back fondly on the friends I made and the experience I gained in that kitchen. The Lanesborough has hosted many celebrities; Tom Cruise did some filming on the top floor, which they hired out for about six weeks. Tom and his security team used the kitchen to exit the building to avoid paparazzi. He and I met face to face when his security guard pinned me up against the wall after I nearly knocked Tom out with a copper pan – due to the standard rushing around and intensity of a normal day in the kitchen! When Tom saw me pinned up against the wall, he asked “Are you ok?” to which I replied, “Can I go? I’m burning my jam!” Definitely a kitchen experience I will never forget!
From there I went on to work at the Orrery – a fabulous restaurant and the SAS of kitchens! There was a great team ethos as we all wanted to push for a Michelin star, and that takes blood, sweat and tears to achieve. I learnt so much in that kitchen. My Head Chef there inspired me in many ways, both through his ability as a chef and his people management style. I was lucky at this point to have been led by two Head Chefs who could not only produce the most amazing dishes, but also manage a team without shouting, in order to get the best out of people. This approach is very much the foundation of my own people management style today. They say we are models of our parents. I am, but having spent so much time in the kitchen, I have also been greatly influenced by my former Head Chefs’ working styles and ethos. Again, at such a young age, to be pushed to the limit of your capability and almost to breaking point was hard, but everyone did it together and we achieved that coveted Michelin star! From that kitchen alone, I think about 10 chefs have gone on to achieve a Michelin star themselves and many more have become successful Head Chefs and restaurateurs in their own right.
My next place of work was Marco Pierre White’s L’Escargot Picasso Room in Soho. This is the kitchen that really moulded me into the chef I wanted to become. Working under another gifted and talented chef, with an amazing eye for detail and where only the best will do, was an experience I will never forget. It was a small kitchen with a team of five chefs and it really was a special time in my career. I was very lucky to once again work with the sous chef I had previously worked with at the Lanesborough Hotel. He was another exceptional chef and fantastic people manager, taking the time to explain dishes, techniques and cooking methods, incredible under pressure and remains one of my closest friends.
Moving to Hertfordshire
In the summer of 2002, I received a phone call from a chef I had previously worked for at the Orrery, asking me if I would like to be his sous chef at Auberge du Lac, Brocket Hall. So, on a bright, sunny day, I took a drive to Welwyn in Hertfordshire. As soon as I drove through the Brocket Hall estate, it took my breath away. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work at such a beautiful place. Jean Christophe Novelli was the Executive Chef at the time; a man with great flair and innovative flavour combinations who gave me the opportunity to learn a totally new style of cooking, as well as exciting methods and techniques. He was a well-known chef who drew much attention to Auberge du Lac. It was an honour and a privilege to work with someone who had achieved so much in his career. He gave me my first Head Chef position in 2004. I was 24 and what a step up this was, managing a team of 18!
I progressed to Executive Head Chef of Brocket Hall in 2008, which meant I ran Auberge du Lac, the golf club and Main Hall. Auberge du Lac, being the flagship restaurant of the estate, formerly an 18th century hunting lodge, is full of charm and mystique with creaking floorboards and staircases. The golf club is a members’ club but also hosts weddings, golf days and corporate events, one of which was held by Aston Martin AND… I got to drive one! The Main Hall is a beautiful building often used for filming; the zodiac had been painted on the celling there and was said to have accounted for half the cost of the insurance for the estate.
My experience at Brocket Hall was a phenomenal 12 years of my life. I grew into my various positions whilst there and changed a lot over the years. I became calmer in the kitchen, learning that shouting wasn’t the way forward and you can get more out of someone by talking to them, teaching and guiding them.
I had the pleasure of working with some great chefs during my years there and I was lucky enough to have a strong team that stayed with me. We all believed we could achieve something amazing – and we did; the Michelin star in January 2009, 3 AA Rosettes in September 2009 and a really high score in the Good Food Guide during my time there. Achieving all this together with my team was the best part, knowing the hours they’d put in, the six and seven-day weeks they’d worked when we were short-staffed, and the late-night prep being done after evening service. It was all worth it for what we achieved together, and something no-one can take away from us.
Achieving my dream
After 12 years at Brocket Hall and Hertfordshire having become my home, my girlfriend who was sick of never seeing me, wanted me to open my own restaurant, so I could take more time off. In reality it has not entirely panned out like that, but she is still here and has been my business partner since day one. She wrote the business plan, secured the finance and helped me achieve my ultimate dream of opening my own place…and here I am today at THOMPSON St Albans.
I could not be prouder of what my team and I have achieved over the past four years in my own restaurant. If someone had said I’d have my own place in the wonderful city of St Albans 10 years ago, I would never have believed them. We have had much support along the way from both our new and regular guests. It has been a really tough journey, with more and more amazing restaurants popping up every day, but when a guest leaves our restaurant raving about it and telling us what a great lunch or evening they have had, the ‘feel good factor’ is incredible and I am literally bursting with pride.
To anyone who is keen on following a career in food, I’d recommend getting in touch with me for a chat. I have a range of exciting job opportunities on offer here at THOMPSON St Albans and would love to hear from you.