#182 – Hospitality Meets Natasha Robinson – Long Legacy: Family, Food, and Michelin Stars in Hospitality

This week on Hospitality Meets, we had the incredible privilege to sit down with Natasha Robinson, a torchbearer for a storied legacy in the restaurant industry. Natasha’s deep-rooted connection to hospitality comes from a lineage spanning generations, with her parents standing out as boundary-pushing restaurateurs. From her upbringing amidst the bustling energy of family restaurants to her contemporary role guiding young talents, Natasha’s journey is awe-inspiring!

We cover

  • January
  • Changing trends
  • Being Born into restaurants
  • Growing up with your community
  • Rejecting restaurants (And then being sucked back in)
  • Getting Michelin Stars
  • Winning 3 stars
  • Shouting
  • Interior Design
  • Unite the Clans
  • Competitions and the Gold Service Scholarship

And so much more.

🌟 Tune in to hear more about Natasha’s inspiring journey and her vision for the future of hospitality!

Enjoy!

The Guest

Natasha is a fourth generation restaurateur, worked Front of House for 40 years, in a family business, at the highest level, in London (Chez Nico, Incognico, Deca). She’s now the other half of Serenata Hospitality (with Sergio Rebecchi). She and Sergio in run the 3 major FoH Competitions in the UK (AAE and MCA for RACA and GSS). She lobby’s for the Hospitality Industry and gives motivational talks to FoH teams. They encourage, support and mentor young people in Hospitality whilst being ambassadors and advocates for the Hospitality Industry. Natasha is also a Director of Rye News and champion the Highstreet and independent businesses in her regular columns.

Instagram – @Serenatahospitality

The Sponsor

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Transcript
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And a huge hospitality meets. Welcome to Natasha Robinson. Oh,

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thank you, Phil. It's lovely to be here. How are you? I am very

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good. Today is supposed to be the first day of spring. It's the spring

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equinox. It's trying desperately to be sunny outside,

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but the blossoms are starting to open

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and my garden is full of tulips and daffodils, so I'm great.

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Yes. There's just something, isn't there, about when the weather starts to turn

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in this way where, I don't know, everything just feels a bit

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nicer and, you know, let's just get to it. Yeah. Hope

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and optimism, that's what it is. Yeah. And especially as well, I suppose, from a

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hospitality perspective. Look at me, getting straight back on message. You've

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got, you know, they're pretty. They're normally the

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lean trading months as well, aren't they? That sort of the first quarter of, of

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any year, because people are, you know, got the Christmas hangover

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and all of that. Although my wife and I do our best to compensate for

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that because we've both got our birthdays in January, so trying to find

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places that. That remain open for my birthday, especially on the 5 January.

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So this is a note to everybody out there who closes for the first two

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weeks in January. Please stop it. Don't.

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It's funny, because we used to. Historically, January was always a very good month

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for us because there was part two of

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Christmas, if you like. So a lot of people entertain at Christmas, their

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customers or their clients or whatever, but actually to be able to look after your

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own staff and take your staff out on Christmas parties or things like that, that

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very often happened in January, once all the excitement of

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the season had passed and you actually had time to sit and think. So January

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was always good for us, and then things would trail off slowly. But

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I do know that trading patterns have changed completely over

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the years. So for a very long period of our career, you could

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pretty much plan because you knew this was a good day, this was a slow

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day, this was the high season, this was the low season, but all of that

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has changed. And in fact, you mentioned birthdays. April,

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historically, which was my father's birthday, and my birthday

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was the worst month of the year, actually. And it's so

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within the family, April is like, yay, hey, birthday month. And because we

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were just a week apart, we did our birthdays together. But from a business

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point of view, April was not a good month. Is that right?

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Is that right? Yeah. I mean, I suppose you kind of

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just in some ways, there's some things that you can affect in terms

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of trying to drive business in, but sometimes you've just got to go with the

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flow, haven't you, really, of what is going on. Yeah.

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A lot of people have said to us, a lot of our kids have said

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that. In fact, the weekly pattern has changed completely as

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well, because a lot of people still work from home. London

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is busy now, sort of Monday, Tuesdays are good days, apparently,

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in London, and conversely, Fridays, Saturdays, not so much,

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because people take longer weekends or work four days, three days,

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or however they do it. So that has completely changed as well. So that would

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be alien territory for me if I was running a business now, having to

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relearn all of those. Yeah, well, I suppose

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London, from that perspective through the week, has changed, but actually

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the benefactor has been then the local communities, isn't it? Because I've certainly noticed it

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where I live, Stansted and Bishop Storford way,

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the restaurants are busier. There's actually more restaurants coming online than there

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have ever been before, which is just in the face

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of all the doom and gloom that's out there in terms of business trading conditions

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and all of that. And I think we're all aware of the pressures

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that exist right now, for sure. But at the same time, there's

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still the opportunity to thrive. There is. I mean, if I look at

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Rye, obviously, I was born and brought up in London and worked in London all

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of my life, but for that last ten years, we've been living in rye so

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completely outside of the capital, we're backwards and forwards all the

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time. But looking at the way that Rye has changed in the last ten years,

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it's quite amazing. It is now full of restaurants. It was, historically, it

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was always full of coffee shops and tea rooms and that sort of thing, but

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now we have some really good restaurants either in town or around town.

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And certainly people are always amazed when I tell them, Hastings and

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St Leonards, and they all go, see, seriously, Hastings, isn't that.

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St Leonard's, which is the far end of Hastings, is an

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absolute goldmine for restaurants.

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Young, new, hopeful, bright, happy businesses which

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are extremely professional, extremely well run, very

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popular. One of our favourite beach bars in the entire world happens to

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be on the beach at St Lennon's, for goodness sake. So

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all around here, businesses are doing hospitality,

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businesses are being rejuvenated and starting to

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thrive. We have lost some. There is no doubt we've lost some. But as some

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go, they're replaced by new and arguably

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better, more professional ones. A lot of. We have a lot of breweries

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down here, a lot of kids who are starting up breweries were surrounded by

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vineyards by accident. When we moved down here ten years ago, we didn't realize

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that we were moving into the wine capital of the

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British Isles, amazingly. So the part of East Sussex that we're

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in. I know, isn't it terrible? We're very near to

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Kent, so we're on that sort of on the border of East Sussex and Kent,

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which is british wine country. I mean, who the hell knew? So there's

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a lot of hope and a lot of growth, not just in London, but I'm

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happy to say, in the southeast, if you like.

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Yeah, absolutely. You can come again. I love this positive, positive

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outlook for sure, but just gone straight

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into this. But, you know, for the world out there, what is it that you

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do? Okay, well, so I was born into

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restaurants and born, grew up and worked in restaurants all

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my life, and now that I'm retired from that,

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I, along with Sergio, we support, mentor, and

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encourage young people into hospitality. So I did 40

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years in restaurants. He did 60 years in hotels and restaurants.

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So we like to say that between us, we have 100 years of food

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and beverage in front of house knowledge, which sounds crazy, but

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in effect, we actually do have so much knowledge and experience, and it's now

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time to give back and share that with the younger generations who are coming up

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in our industry. Love that. Love that. And you do that under the banner of

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Serenatta hospitality. Hospitality. Yeah, absolutely.

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Combination of our name, sergio, natasha, Serenatta comes out, which is rather

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nice. Rather pretty, rather lyrical. Yep. I can

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find nice songs on. On Instagram to post behind our

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posts with Serenata in, because it's a lovely word, isn't it? Yeah,

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that is. That's lovely. I like that. Yeah. And you were very. You were kind

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enough to reach out to me on Instagram, actually, and it's only taken us about

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three years to make this happen. But. But we. We got there in the end.

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I know, but, yeah, there's a lot of things that I want to discuss around

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the work that you do, but we'll do that laterally because I actually want to

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take you all the way back. You've already mentioned that you were kind of born

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into the industry, as it were. So I don't know whether you didn't

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really have a choice to go into hospitality or whether

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it was just something that you were just born and destined to do. I

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had a choice, and I actually opted out for a while, I have to say.

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So on my mother's side of the family, which is the french side of my

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family, I'm, in fact, a fourth generation restaurateur on

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my father's side, on the greek side of the family, I'm a

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third generation restaurateur. And I know. So,

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yeah, so it is definitely in my blood. However, my

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parents, when they met and married, were not

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planning to go into owning and running a restaurant. They sort of

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just fell into it. My father had tried all sorts of different

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careers previously and finally ended up owning

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a restaurant because after years of not knowing what he wanted to do,

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they took a year out. He had enough. Took a year out, went to the

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south France to where my mother's family are, and just

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took a time out, basically. And they spent a year eating

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and drinking their way around France and the local area and stuff.

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That sounds terrible. I know, isn't it terrible? He'd been

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brought up by in a household. He was actually born in

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East Africa. So he was born in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania

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on a size of plantation. And my great

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grandmother had to make everything from scratch. So we're

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now talking thirties, forties, fifties. So

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no running water, no electricity. Everything was make do. She had to

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make their clothes, she had to make food from scratch for

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a large family. So my father was always surrounded by

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fantastic food from the word go. And he kind of took it for granted, as

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a lot of us continentals do. It's just part of our

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life, and that's the way it is, you know. You wouldn't consider that

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people don't like food, enjoy food, know how to cook food,

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not a thing. So fast forward. He came to England

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to study, started working, couldn't really find what he

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liked. Took this year out eventually with my mother

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and rediscovered his love for food and thought, I know,

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why don't I open a restaurant? My mother went, yeah,

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okay. Just like that. Just like that. And that's what

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they did. So this is now 1973, and they open a tiny little

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restaurant, East Dulwich. By now, they have two little girls with them. Where they go,

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the girls go. And we were. We found ourselves in

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this restaurant where we used to help and work

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and mainly sit around waiting for my parents to finish service before

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they took us home at night. And it was not uncommon for us to be

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sort of sat at the back table of the restaurant, do our homework, have some

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dinner, and then get carried home afterwards. I love that. I

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love the visual of that in terms of the. How

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integrated in family life that is for you. And, you know,

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it doesn't have to be this

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corporate machine of the cycle of restaurant. A good

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restaurant in a local environment like that is a part of the community, isn't it?

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So why not have your kids up the back of the

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restaurant doing the homework? I love the authenticity of that. I think it's just really,

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really cool. Well, so that's how we grew up and

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a lot of because of the location at the restaurant at the time in

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Dulwich, we were near a couple of the big training

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hospitals, so the student doctors used to come and have something to

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eat with us and then as we got

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bigger and moved into town, the student doctors became more

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qualified and more senior and so we sort of grew up together. So

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by the time we ended up 30 years later, a lot of our customers were

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sort of top medical specialists and all of this sort of stuff, so we

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all grew up together and along the way they had families and children

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and they brought their children to the restaurant who grew up through. So there was

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a very, very much a sort of a progression of

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us, the customers and the family

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atmosphere sort of permeated throughout everything, really. Yeah,

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yeah. Brilliant. And so you were a child at this

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point. How did it progress from there in terms of

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your forced into child labour? Of course I was the same. Yes,

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child labour. Growing on the. Yes. In the garden, growing herbs

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for my father and helping them out at weekends, which

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I probably started probably at about the age of 16 or so,

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Friday and Saturday nights, which, as we were saying earlier, were the big days of

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the week in those days. So I would help my mother

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in the restaurant front of house and it just

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sort of went from there slowly, slowly, so fast forward to about

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1718 when I was studying at school, which

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I was not a natural study. I hate

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studying. I hated studying. I have to say, I have changed a lot since

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then. I am dyslexic, so it took me years and years and years to

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know how to even read and write and therefore I was more

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artistically minded. I drew, I painted, I

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could do anything with my hands and I thought to myself, that's what I really

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want to do. I don't want to work in restaurants. I've done the restaurant thing.

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17. Done the restaurant thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Been there, done there.

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Everything there is to see. That's it, yeah, move on. Next. So

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I actually studied history of art and design and

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merchandising. I thought, right, last thing I'm going to do is work in a restaurant

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like my parents. I'm going to go out there big, wide world.

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And I did that for a little bit and then slowly,

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slowly got sucked back into the restaurant because I was working still part time

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on and off with my parents. And then as

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daddy became more

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professional, I suppose, because it had started out as a sort

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of. Right, let's try this and see where this takes us then. In

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where we were at this time, we were in Battersea. He got his first

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star. So he then. Yeah, he then. What

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year are we in now at this point, roughly fantasy. Early

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eighties. Yeah, early eighties. Okay. We lived

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upstairs. Brilliant. Yeah. Well, here we are again, like the authenticity of,

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you know, a family restaurant, as it were. But I suppose at that time

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as well, the food scene in London

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probably had not fully taken off by any stretch of imagination. So

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you were, you know, to get a star at that time. You were probably one

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of a chosen few would imagine it was. It was an

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uphill battle at that time. Everything was a fight. People were

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not used to eating out as much as they do now.

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People were. Didn't have cookery books all over their

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kitchen counter or shelves the way that they do

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now. They weren't used to some of the ingredients that

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we had in the food. Oh, I don't like this. I can't eat garlic. What's

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that? Ooh, that tastes odd. Why have you put it in all that sort of

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stuff? Right. And it was very difficult. And

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as my dad says in one of his books, he always says that when he

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started cooking, he had to go to the chemist to find olive oil. Now, he

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had grown up in a greek household where olive oil was what you had

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at home and cooked with. You couldn't move for olive oil in Greece.

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Yes, absolutely. So here you couldn't move

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for not finding olive oil. You had to move around boots to find olive oil

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because that's the only place that they stocked it in little jars for

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medicinal life. I know,

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and we're not talking that long ago. No, I

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mean, not in the grand scheme of things. Right. I mean, yeah. I mean, to

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think of. To think about how that is just such a

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taken for granted staple of any household now, isn't it, really? I mean,

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anybody who cooks will have a bottle of olive oil

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kicking around. For sure, and several others, because

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we're now so used to the variety of things we can get and we

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don't have to go to specialist delicatessens or shops or things like that. Any

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supermarket will have an array of all sorts of things. And

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so we got our first star. And

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this made daddy realize that. Hang on, I'm

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onto something here. I need to do a bit more investigation.

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He was a very sort of erudite person. And

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one star. Okay, that sounds very nice. What does it mean?

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Why have I got it? And can I get another?

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And then he realized that actually, once you've got the second, there is a

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mythical thing called a third star. So to him it was

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a given. Why would you stop at one or two when three are available? You

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just go for the three. What? You know, that was his attitude. Yeah.

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What was his rule? He wasn't the chef. Yes, he was

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the chef. So my father was Nicola Dennis, and he was. He

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ended up being the first british chef to get three Michelin

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stars. And he was british because when he was born in Tanzania,

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Tanzania was a british colony, and by default, you

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get british citizenship. So greek family and

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background, british passport. So when he got his third star,

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that made him the first british chef to get three Michigan stars. Right. Isn't

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that one of the wonderful things of hospitality as well, though? Like, just. You've

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just named three places that, you know. Okay. The

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british passport maybe helped to move between those two territories, but

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greek background, tanzanian born, british made, as it

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were. Yeah. That, to me, just sums up how

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wonderful this world can be when you. When you just think

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laterally about what's. What's possible. Absolutely.

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And particularly, as you say, in hospitality, we are surrounded by

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every nationality and it's wonderful. And that's. And that's

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also London. That's very, very much London, isn't it? The melting pot, the hotchpotch.

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That is London, where you grow up surrounded by everything. My sister and

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I went to the french listi when we were growing up,

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and the french list was also a pool of

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people from around the world, because a lot of families

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travelled or dads were posted to various locations.

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And the one stable thing that they could give their kids was if they put

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them in the french lysis. If you're posted to Dakar,

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there's a french lysis. If you're posted to Athens, there's a french lysis. So

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your kids education will be continuous and

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unbroken. So within that school system, we were not only

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surrounded by kids from all over the world, but

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also all the restaurant kids from London. They all went to the French

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DC as well, to all the french kids. So we grew up surrounded by all

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sorts. And then in London, London is

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a mini, is such a cosmopolitan city and it is wonderful for that.

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Amazing. Yeah, yeah, totally. I mean, I read something somewhere, this is a few years

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ago now. It's probably changed to even more. But

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the melting pot of restaurant diversity that is available

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means that in London you can eat somewhere for lunch and

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dinner in a different place and you'd never have to go back to the same

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place in seven years. It was just. I thought that was from

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a statistical perspective, I thought, isn't that incredible that there is that

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quantity of places to go and see? And, okay,

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you've got every possible area of the spectrum on there in terms

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of quality and integrity, probably in some instances

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as well. But nevertheless, it's just such

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a ripe and ready place to London is ready

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for whatever experience you want to, to bring into the fold.

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It's wonderful. It is wonderful. And going back to locally, so

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not so London centric, Hastings and St Leonard's also has all

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sorts of varieties of cuisines. We have lebanese restaurants,

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we have west african restaurants, we have local family restaurants,

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we have farm led restaurants, we have organic. I mean, we have everything. We

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have arabic grocers also in St Leonards, which is lovely because, I

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mean, I go and I step into an arabic groceries and the produce is just

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so lovely, all the herbs and spices and you get that fabulous instant hit

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smell that you get in a continental grocers or

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delicatessen. So I get my fix of that half an hour from here. It's

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fabulous. Really, really great. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So back to the restaurant

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first achieved and what is your involvement in, at this

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point in time? So, initially it was part

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time working, helping out at weekends, and then when daddy

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sort of realized that actually three stars was the pinnacle of what he should

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be achieving, we came together as a family and we realised

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that one of the best ways of achieving this goal would be as a

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family. So you come together, my sister,

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myself, my parents, and no one

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will work longer, better, harder, stronger, faster than your family.

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So we came back together. I gave up any

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sort of dreams of working in history, of art or design or

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anything like that, which actually, within hospitality, I was able to come

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back to many years later. So it wasn't. It's not all lost, because

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hospitality is so enormously varied.

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There is room for that. If that's the way that your mind

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works, you can find that niche. Yeah. So we came

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together and then at that point, so

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rather like my father, don't do anything by halves if you're going to do

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it properly. So threw myself in all in

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front of house. Go for it. My big thing was

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reception and organizing reception, and

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my mother was still, at that point, in front of house. And then when she

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stepped back we had a restaurant manager, so basically just running and

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managing everything, making sure that it's the best that it can possibly

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be. Yeah. And then eventually we got our

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third star. So that was great. Brilliant. Yeah. And so how

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describe then, I guess, when the third star comes along, because, as you

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say, that's not something that's handed out just for the

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crack. You know, there has to be,

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I suppose, a sustained devotion to

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excellence across, you know, quite a long period of time before you're kind of, I

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suppose, even considered. It's rare that somebody just goes straight in at three. I think

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Heston did it, didn't he, when he reopened the fat duck? But it's, you know,

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he had years of history of three stars before that. Yeah,

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but so, yeah, describe the feeling then when. Because this was something

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that you, as a group, as a family, were actually meaningfully

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focused on trying to achieve. Yes, yes, absolutely. So when it happened,

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what was that like? It was. It was quite extraordinary

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because for my father, it was the absolute pinnacle

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of working so long and so hard

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and being an absent father, probably an

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absent husband, an absent everything, which we didn't specifically feel.

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But I think parents feel that more than the kids very

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often, that they didn't do enough or they weren't around enough or

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whatever. So for him, that was fantastic for my mother,

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obviously, because she was 50% of that. Without her, it would never have

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happened, because having, you know, a

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flamboyant chef who's always loud and, you know, letting

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off a fair amount of steam, you

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need someone grounded and quiet

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who just runs the business and makes sure that it keeps ticking over,

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so runs the family, makes sure the girls are okay, looks after the

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dogs, make sure they're fed and watered, looks after the finances of

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the business, looks after the staff, looks after the pay. So that was her role.

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So it's between the two of them. That's how it happened. It was

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also fantastic for all of his boys. He always had

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extraordinarily strong, loyal brigades of

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boys who followed him from restaurant to restaurant and

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worked with him for very long periods of time. Our first head chef, Paul

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Flynn, was with us nine years before he moved back to Ireland to

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open his own restaurant. Our front of house team stayed for many years. Our metre,

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Dan Luc, was with us, and I always forget this. So either ten or 15

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years he worked with my mother and then he became the

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Metra D and took over from her. So it was a

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reward for all of the hard work that everyone had put in.

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And I know it's Cheyney Ko is the one that

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carries the three stars, or my father's name has the three stars associated.

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But without this whole package of people, it would never have happened. It

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doesn't happen in a vacuum. And his mantra was always,

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it always said, consistency, consistency, consistency.

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He wasn't one of these people who had a dish of the day every day.

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And right, what we got today, let's have a look and see what we can

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do. He would perfect his food

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over years, if necessary, to make each dish

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as perfect as it could possibly be. And a lot of our boys have

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taken that with them, and they are very strong,

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very consistent. They have strong businesses. They

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understood the ethos of running a proper business,

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as well as just being able to give good food and good service, that it's

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the complete package. And I think they learned that from my parents as well. Very

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much. Yeah. Well, I suppose that's a major part of

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anybody who is devoted to a life in hospitality. At some point, I

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think it comes to us all whereby you feel almost this

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outpouring of desire to give back, to make sure that the people who are

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coming through are getting the skills that they need to be successful

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and so on and so forth. I can't imagine that that's any different than

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somebody who, like your father, who devoted so much to the industry.

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But I also like the fact that he was, I suppose, humble enough to understand

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that he could be producing the greatest food on the planet. But

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without the rest of it, there's no three stars.

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There's no business, probably. And this is the intricacies of

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business I find really, really fascinating, especially when you're in an operation

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that is so people focused. You can't

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deliver excellence without everybody being on the same page and without all

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pulling together in the same direction. The fact that you had such length

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of service and key components of the team speaks volumes as

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to how you're actually able to achieve consistency. I'd say absolutely, yes.

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Absolutely it does. You know, he always had a reputation for being sort of very

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loud and very shouty and very outspoken and very this and very loud and very

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difficult to be around or be with or work for. But, I mean, if that

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were all true, then we wouldn't have had this consistency, as

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you say, this backbone of staff who stayed with us.

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And also, to get to the top of your

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profession, you do have to be very focused and single minded, and if you're sort

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of flappy, hysterical, shouty and loud, you're not going to get there.

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So behind the sort of

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face of his larger than life personality,

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there was also a very, very meticulous, dedicated person.

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Yeah, I think the thing about the shoutiness is something

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that gets a lot of kind of focus now, isn't it, that, you know, nobody

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wants to be in shouty kitchens, and I completely understand that. But I

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think sometimes there's. Shoutiness can be

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misrepresented. I think none of us are perfect and we all have our moments

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where we lose our marbles over something. And actually, if your

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devotion is to excellence and really what you're trying to do

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is get everybody to get up to that standard and maybe somebody delivers a

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sauce to the past which is not quite perfect, or, you know, the mise en

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place is just a couple of millimeters out or wherever on your veg prep or

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whatever it is. Actually, if you. I suppose the key thing with

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leadership in that respect, if you are. If you're kind of susceptible to little

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moments of shouty weakness, let's call them, if people are

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aware that that's part of it, but the intention behind it is actually,

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it's a positive intention because we want this place to be the best it can

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be. We want you to be the best you can be. And sometimes people

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just need a little bit of a kick to get there. And I think, you

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know, it's not something that I advocate in any shape or form.

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You know, I think bullying is just, you know, is unacceptable. But

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actually raised voices are just

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part of life, you know? And, yeah, his

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voice was very often raised because he had a loud, raised voice. His

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kitchens technically were very quiet, very

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organized. No shouting, no,

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he had very colorful language, but there was

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no bullying or intimidation in the way that there has been in some

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kitchens. He would never have stood for any of that. Yeah. His

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anger was very often aimed at either customers

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or media and journalists who didn't understand what he was

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doing. And he

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would get angry on behalf of his

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teams because he was standing up

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for perfection and excellence. Because what we do

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is a profession. It's not a job, it's not a hobby,

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it's not something you do, because there's nothing else you

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can do or you can. What he was

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standing up for was the hospitality profession.

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Yeah. And people who denigrated it or made fun of it,

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he wouldn't put up with. He wouldn't put up with

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people who. So, as I said earlier on, journalists who

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made fun of what we did for a living, customers who

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wouldn't turn up no shows, for instance, was a huge thing for

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us. The thing is that we're still talking about these problems now. We

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are still talking about these things. Absolutely. But now if you

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think of how much more conscious people are of restaurants and

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hospitality going back a few years, going to a

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restaurant, not going to a restaurant, turning up three when you book for

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six, not a big deal. Not. People just did not

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care. And it is perfectly true.

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People always say, is it an apocryphal story? Is it true? It's absolutely true.

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When we had no shows. And remember, these were very small premises

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and therefore small amount of customers, small amount of

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covers, very tight margins. So if you have a table of four who don't

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turn up, you know, that's it. Your whole day has been a waste of

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time. So he would go through the service, carry on as

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normal, and then either when he got home or before, just before

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closing the restaurant, he would ring those people. So we're now talking 02:00 in the

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morning, he would ring them and he would say to them, would you like

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us to keep your table? Are you still coming? Or shall I send the staff

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home now? Right. And of course they would get very,

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very irritated. But he had then had the final word, so

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he was happy. And of course, all of these boys used to find that very

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funny. Yeah, but I like that. I think that's a really

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good tactic, actually, because, you know, the people who. Stuff

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happens. Of course it does. And, you know, think plans change and all of that

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kind of stuff. Totally respectful of the fact that that can happen. It's happened to

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me before. But the, the respectful position

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is, is that if something happens, you just call ahead and say,

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look, this has happened. I respect your cancellation policy, whatever it is,

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because, you know, these are things that restaurants have to have now. Yeah, but

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I respect you. I respect your trade, I respect your establishment.

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I will cancel my dentist, I will counsel my doctor. If I have an appointment

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with my kids head of year or

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school teacher, I will cancel that if I can't make it. Well, why

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wouldn't you accord us the same respect and cancel your

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table with us? That's all we need, a phone call. Yep. I call ahead if

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I'm going to be ten minutes late. Oh, yes, yes, I know.

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Yeah. That's how paranoid I am about. I don't want to lose the booking. Just,

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you know, I have to make you aware that I'm just running behind. But anyway,

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yes, we digress. But it's really, really interesting. It's very. It's

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also. It's interesting because I come back to that, the point I was making about

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the shoutiness. The shoutiness has come from

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passion for the craft. Yes. And actually, as you say, is kind

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of protecting the craft, protecting

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the, the industry in some respects, I guess, against

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disrespect, really, ultimately, yeah. But back

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to your story. Where. Where are we? Right. Where are we

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now? How long are you then involved in this phase of the

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operation? What happened next? So we are. So

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we're now in Park Lane. So over the course of 30 years, the

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restaurant, because it was a small family

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venture, we moved several times over the years. Nowadays,

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it's not uncommon to open great, big, gleaming, beautiful

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restaurants in fabulous locations right from the go get world. That

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wasn't how it happened in our day, and certainly not any way that we could

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ever afford doing that. So we started off in Dulwich, and then

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we moved to Battersea, and then we moved to Victoria, and then

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we moved to great Portland street, and

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then in great Portland street. At that point, we had two stars

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and we moved the restaurant from great Portland

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street into the Grosvenor House Hotel. And that's where I met Searchl,

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because he was director of food and beverage and banqueting at the Grosvenor house. And

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along with his then GM and another person called

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Gerald Lipton, they put their heads together and thought, there's an

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empty shop in the Grosvenor house. The X restaurant,

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which, in fact, had been in its heyday, 90 park lane, had been the

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first restaurant within the forte organization to get its Michelin

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star. And in fact, that was under Sergio. That was his thing. Even though he's

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a hotel man at heart, he had been very focused on the

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restaurants within the hotel operations and he had got them their first

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merchant star. So this shop was now empty.

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And someone had the bright idea to invite Cheney

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Cook to move into the Grosvenor house. And at the time, that was totally

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unheard of. No one had done that before. Nowadays, it's

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quite normal for big hotels to have named chefs, and

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in fact, they go out of their way to bring in and

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attract multi Michelin starred chefs into their

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premises. At the time, everybody thought that we had gone crazy. They

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thought, oh, well, you know, Cheyne was obviously not doing well. They

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obviously need help and support. They obviously need to be under somebody else's

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umbrella. It was the absolute total contrary, because

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we had been invited in, because we were who we were to

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add to that property, and that's what we did.

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So once again, groundbreaking moved to Grosvenor house. And in effect,

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that's why we got our how, when and why we got our third

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star being in that bigger environment. Yeah.

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So I was working there, running there, and

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I said to you earlier on, I was able to find ways to sort of

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channel my creativity. And that was in doing things like the flower arrangements.

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We used to have fabulous flower arrangements, and that was my big thing going to.

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As if I didn't sleep few enough hours in the day,

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I ended up. I used to go to Covent Garden first thing in the morning,

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buy enormous amounts of flowers and decorate the restaurants for

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all the. When we did all the functions, we did weddings, we did parties with

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things like that. So that was one way of doing it. And then later on,

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interior design, when we got our third

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star, daddy had done his thing. He

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had achieved his goal. He'd done. He got to

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the three. There are no more to do. So he thought, that's it, I'm

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off. And he retired. Really. Right. Well, you know, leave

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your audience wanting more, you know. Absolutely, as well.

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But that's great as well, though, because there

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is almost nowhere to go apart from sustaining it then. Right. I mean, that's

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the. That's an achievement in itself, without question. Yeah. But, you

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know, everybody's wired differently. Right? And if that's what was focused on, it

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is very difficult sometimes when people achieve their dreams, for them to figure

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out what the next dream is. That was his challenge, to get the three.

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He got the three. I think we did it. We lasted, kept them up for

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a couple of years or so. And then he said, our lease. We only

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had a ten year lease at Grosvenor House. So when the lease was up, he

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sort of went, okay, I'm out of here. I'm off. Done my thing.

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So we're like, oh, okay. Are you sure? He's like, yeah, that's

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it. Nowadays, I mean, yesterday, or was it a couple of days ago, there was

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the launch of the. The Michelin Paris. We had

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the launches all over the. In February, there was the launch of the british

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mission in Manchester. And it's a

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huge song and dance and everybody, there's a party and there's an. On

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stage and it's a whole. It's become like the oscars, and you get a plaque

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and you put your plaque and you photograph yourself in front of your plaque and

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you're on Instagram and you're this. And in our day, we weren't even

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allowed to write on our menu, you know,

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Chez Nikolt, and put the three Michelin stars, for instance,

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or on your. Not on your website, because we didn't have websites in those

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days we had letterheads. Oh, how quaint. Old fashioned paper

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and pen. So we had a, you know, on the cheney called Letterhead, you couldn't

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write underneath three stars. So things have changed an awful lot and evolved.

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But anyway, he got his stars. He went to live in the south France,

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or my parents went to live in the south France. But meanwhile we had

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decided to open a brasserie, if you like, a

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sort of slightly more informal restaurant, typically

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french brasserie, that worked along the lines and the principles of classic french

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food, but in a lighter style. And some of our boys

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came and started that off. I was running those. Sergio came

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and then at that point, retired from hotels and came and worked with us

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and we did all of those. So in its heyday,

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Incog was an absolute fantastic brushstroy in the West

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End, in the heart of theatreland. So we had to learn a whole

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new skill, which was the pre theatre. Oh, yeah. Oh,

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yeah. To add to the rest of your service. And there I

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was able to do another one of the things that I loved, which was interior

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design, and David Collins designed that restaurant for

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us and I was able to work with David Collins

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and he was fantastically inspirational and

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it was a way of

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expressing my creativity by getting involved in that, because at the end of the

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day, I've discovered that the thing I really loved doing at the time was

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opening restaurants, because opening restaurants is fantastically

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exciting. Everything from sort of designing

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extraction and I tell you, even all of the

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technical stuff, all of the plants, all of the kit that you need, I find

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as fascinating as what colour curtains you're going to have. And should we have

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carpet or should we have marble? And all of this sort of stuff,

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it's really, really fun, hard work,

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but I couldn't have done it with anyone more brilliant than David Collins

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because he was also groundbreaking within the hospitality industry. He is the

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first designer who became a

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household name within our industry, within the interior design

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world. Everyone wanted him to do their businesses up.

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He brought glamour and beauty and

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designing spaces as well as

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we created the food and as the front of house created the

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service. So that was also became part of the package,

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having an interior designed restaurant. And nowadays that's, again,

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that's par for the course. But at the time. And it was in fact Pierre

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Kaufman who gave David Collins his first break within

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restaurants when he designed dark Clare for him. And

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then everybody wanted David Collins to design their restaurants. Of course they

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did, yes. Good enough for Pierre Kaufman. It's good enough for me.

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Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. My goodness.

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Yeah. This is the glorious thing for me about running this little

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podcast is the stories of things that are just

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out there that you don't, maybe you know a slight bit about, but

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don't know much about. I had no idea about

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the history of you, really, and what you've been

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able to kind of get involved with over your career to

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date. It's quite magical, some of the things that you've.

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And I also love the fact that it's family business. I mean, I

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hail from a family business myself. Granted, not at a three Michelin

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star level, but nevertheless, my mother and father were very, very devoted

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to ensuring that they were delivering consistency for the things

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that they loved. Yes. And that I think that coming from that place of

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authenticity, of if you kind of do

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things in the eye of what you enjoy,

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I don't. There's. There's many people out there who will be exactly the same, who

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will enjoy what you enjoy as well.

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And so, yeah, I love. I love the family

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element of your story, as well as the kind of the devotion to

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excellence. Thank you. Well, you see,

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now, when I look back from where I am now,

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I know so many people in the industry. I know now

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so many young people. So every year, we meet at least

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200 new young people who enter our competitions,

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and some of whom we get to know very, very well and

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become very close to. So we know so many people in

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the industry, Xiaoju and I, that that's one of the big things we do, that

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we are able to put people together or to bring

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people together who might need each other or help each other out or things like

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that. So that's a very big part of what we do and that

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we enjoy so much. I mean, having all of this knowledge, you can't keep it

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to yourself. You have to give it back and share it. That's surely.

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Why do you accumulate all of this knowledge during a lifetime? It's

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not to sit in your armchair in front of the telly and go, look how

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clever I am. Look at the number of people I know. Oh, look at the

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number of prime ministers I've met in my lifetime. Oh, great. Share

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it. It's all important information that you need

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to help other people with. Absolutely. You

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know, you've mentioned it a couple of times through your journey

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as well, that the importance of evolution in all of this as well,

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the industry has evolved immeasurably. The way that people behave has

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evolved immeasurably. So it stands to reason that the industry has

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to continue to keep evolving. But you do that from having a

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really, really sound base of knowledge for the moment that you're in. And

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then, you know, so there's always something more to learn. There's always,

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you know, but we're. Here's a. I got through, what, about

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50 minutes on this? And here's a cliche. We are stronger together, right? I mean,

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you know, that. That's just a fact. Absolutely.

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Totally stronger together. It's one of the hashtags that I very often

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use, not in my hospitality role, but in one of my other

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roles at, because I work. I'm a director of and

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work with our local paper in Rye

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News, and I am working on getting together

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a media partnership currently between the Rye Chamber of

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Commerce, the Rye Jazz Festival, which is an international, big festival

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every year that comes to Rye, and the Rye Arts Festival. And the hashtag that

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I use is stronger together. Rye is a very small town.

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We want it to stay beautiful, keep thriving,

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growing, encourage the hospitality, because it's very much a

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tourist town. We need fabulous restaurants. We need brilliant hotels.

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We need to be able to employ the young people around

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here that they don't end up straying or lost or not

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within careers. We can give them all of that here. And one of the ways

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of doing that is by working together. We are stronger together. All of

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this individualism and fighting against the

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system and not wanting to be part of a group is just ridiculous,

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because at the bottom of. At the end of the day, what's the

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thing that keeps us in hospitality going is

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teamwork. Whether you're in the kitchen or front of house

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or back of house, wherever you work, you work in a team.

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You can't do it on your own. You have to have your colleagues around you.

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You have to get on. You have to. You have to be best friends. You

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have to get on in a professional sense, I have to be able to rely

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on you. I know that you can do this. I can't do that. You can

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do this. But together, this is what we can achieve. And teamwork

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is behind everything that we do in hospitality.

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Absolutely. I've utilized a phrase on this show a few

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times, and in other establishment things, forums and

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panels and all sorts of stuff. Is that unite the clans? Is what I say.

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Yes. There you go. Absolutely. We have a bit of

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a propensity to. It's almost like this. All

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the ideas are amazing, but my idea is the best, but rather

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actually having a melting pot of just ideas flowing all the

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time, where everybody. We have this massive collective of people that exist

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in this industry. Imagine if we got all those ideas together

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under one roof and really, really forged forward, because

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there are challenges that we need to fight together. We need one united

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voice as opposed to pockets of many

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voices. And I think if we do that, then we've

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got a chance of really having a proper seat at the table.

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But until then, I think we'll probably still be having the same

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conversations for years to come. Yeah, I agree

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with you. I mean, we do need better representation at higher

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levels. We need to be a louder, stronger

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voice. We need to be able to lobby government more than

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we do. I know. We try. I know Kate Nichols does an amazing job.

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Kate Nichols, who's someone I'd love to meet. I've never had the chance to meet

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her. So far, the biggest thing that she has achieved

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for our industry, I think, from my point of view, was during

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lockdown, when she lobbied constantly for the hospitality

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industry. Now we know what we do for a living, all of us. We all

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in our little silos, we all do our thing. We know and understand what

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we used to call catering, we now call hospitality. But it wasn't so

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much in the public consciousness at all. Because of her,

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the word hospitality appeared in virtually every

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single news bulletin throughout the entire day.

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During the 18 months to two years of the pandemic,

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every single time you turned on the television or the radio, you heard the word

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hospitality and it became. It

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went into the national consciousness in a way that it hadn't done before.

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And that is an amazing first

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step towards putting us out there and making us

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better known, better understood, better appreciated. And

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she now has a platform and a near

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within government which I'm sure she will carry through and

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keep growing lobbying on behalf of the now

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renowned hospitality industry. Here. Here.

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Absolutely. You mentioned competitions that you

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run, so let's talk about those, because you

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are actually very, very kindly this year. And in fact, the previous year, but I

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couldn't make the previous year, invited me to the gold service scholarship this year, which

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you're heavily involved with as well. I was just blown

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away by that event and, you know, especially because it was invite only as well,

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so I felt very special. But, yeah, that

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that's one thing that you're involved with, but you also have other awards that you

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actually are right behind and kind of responsible for. So talk to me about

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everything that you do in that. Okay? All right. So basically,

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I've been there and done that. My time is gone, but there are

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loads of young people coming through the industry currently and

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in the future, loads more. We have to keep our industry going.

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And so Sergio has been. He's part of

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the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and he has been running the annual

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awards of excellence and the Master of culinary arts for over 40 years now.

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So that's one of the. Those are two of the competitions that we run. And

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then when the gold service scholarship was started, it was initially an

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idea that Willy Bauer had. Willy Bauer was

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big at Forte and then he was big within the Savoy

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organization, Savoy Group, and he wanted to

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highlight front of house. And he took his idea to Alister's

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story, and Alister's story was obviously very impressed with the

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idea, took it, ran with it. So Alistair's story, Baxter story,

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as was. And he also thought that this was a

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brilliant idea and made it happen. So Alistair's story made the gold

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service scholarship happen with the founding trustees,

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who are people like Silvano Shiraldin, and obviously

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Sergio. And Sarah Jane Staines was one of the founding

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trustees, so they started the gold service scholarship. Edward

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Griffiths came on board, Thomas Cox came on board,

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and Knut Wilde from the Berkeley is

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now on board, as well as Lydia Forte. So there's full circle for

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Sergio, who's one of Lord Forte's old boys. And all these

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years later, he's working with Lord Forte's granddaughter, Lydia.

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So Sergio now runs all three of those competitions,

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obviously not single handed. He is. Edward is chairman of the judges for

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the gold service scholarship. He works very closely with someone called John

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Cousins, who's an amazing person, who runs both competitions with Sergio,

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who we couldn't do without. And John Couzens, he

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writes one of the sort of bibles of hospitality, food and beverage service, I think

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it's called, which is a very dry title, John, by the way, but it

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says what it does on the tin and it's what young people need

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to read to have a strong understanding of

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the principles and techniques of hospitality. So each

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competition is very different and it spans

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the age groups. So the first one that you enter

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is the annual awards of excellence, the Royal Academy competition.

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And that's from your earlier stage in hospitality, which is

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generally about 18, I suppose, that sort of age. And that goes up to

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18 to 26, and that's

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their competition. Then the second to the mid range age

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group. So that's a slightly, a fairly technical competition. The Gold survey

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scholarship focuses more on personality and personal

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skills and that sort of intangible that you bring

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to hospitality. And that goes up to the age

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of 28, I think, 2022 to 28 in that

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age range. And then the final one is the master of culinary

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arts. And the Master of culinary arts isn't age specific, but you

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need to have had at least ten years managerial, a ten year

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managerial role within the hospitality industry before you can enter the master of culinary

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arts. So that has its challenges because

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you would say, oh, well, you know, they've been managers for ten years now. They

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know it's all fantastic, easy peasy. When you've been a manager for ten years,

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chances are you spend a lot of time on a computer or in

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an office or sitting down and in fact going

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back to the floor and remembering how you carve a salmon

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perfectly or how you prepare fruit with a,

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with a fork and knife rather than, you know, carving it properly rather than

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using hands. They have to identify ingredients,

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identify cheeses, identify. So in fact,

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there's a lot of study involved in doing that at their

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age. So we help with that. And when you've achieved the

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master of culinary arts, it's like a master's degree in any other

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profession. So it is a master's degree, hospitality,

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and you are at the peak of your profession and from

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then on you can then teach all of those coming behind you

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within your establishment the skills and

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techniques of hospitality. Yeah,

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there's a few things in play here for me. One, I'm going

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to come back to the gold service scholarship as an example. I haven't been to

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your other awards yet. Maybe we'll rectify that in the

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future. Absolutely. Well, the annual awards have just started, so. Yeah, yeah.

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Excellent, excellent. Is that, you know, if ever you were in any

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doubt that the future of the industry is in safe hands, you just need to

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go along to that event because, you know, the devotion to

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excellence from what is essentially a group of young people, you

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know, I suppose you could argue the much maligned. Youth of today, as

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it were, it drives me mad. Oh, they don't do this. Oh, they don't do

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that. Or in my day, they did this. Well, it

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is so not true. Absolutely. Could not agree more.

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Absolutely extraordinary. Absolutely. Yeah. So that to me

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was just a wonderful reminder that we have such amazing talent

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coming through all of the time, every year. Yeah, there's always, you know, there's new

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and even the people who don't, who don't win, you know, there to make it

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to that final list is just an amazing achievement in itself,

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even to just be nominated, I think it's just a wonderful achievement in itself. It

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is amazing and we try, we want to encourage and

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build and grow these people. So when you enter the annual awards, when you

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get through, you become an achiever. You have achieved the annual awards of

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excellence. When you go through the gold service, if you're a

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semi finalist, you get prizes as well. You don't have to go all the way

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through quarter and semis, I should say. And

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when you get down to the last eight, those last eight at the gold service

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scholarship are all winning finalists. They are the eight winners

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of that year. Now, within that category, of the eight winning finalists,

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a scholar will be named. So each year will be represented by a

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scholar. But they have all achieved, and they are all winning

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finalists at the gold scholarship, which is something that we

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try to promote to encourage people

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so that they don't feel deflated or let down, if they feel that they haven't

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done well or got through. It's all part of the giant

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learning curve. And if you didn't succeed the first time by

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getting as far as you want to, you try again the next year. There's nothing

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stopping you until you get to that age limit, obviously. You keep going and

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going and going until you become an achiever or a winning finalist. It's there for

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you to take if you want it. There's that feeling of

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coopetition with it as well, which is a wonderful word to use. And

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I think that we are, as an industry, especially brilliant at this. You only just

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need to look at a great british menu, which is currently running. Yes.

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Whereby, yes, it's a competition, but the minute somebody

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is in the mire a little bit, then somebody else steps up to

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help. That, to me, is just absolutely.

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That's a hospitality mentality, 100%. And

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you get the sense from the gold service scholarship that there's that same camaraderie that's

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being built amongst competitors that ultimately, when all said and

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done, we're all winners and we're all here to support each other. And actually, we're

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all here to just make sure that this industry continues to flourish and be the

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best that it can be. And I will play my part in that wherever I

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can. Well, one of the big things that we like to try and do is

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support them all, all the way through. I definitely

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feel. I could feel that at the event. Thank you.

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That's so important to hear, that there are no

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tricks. You just have to learn some

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basic things. And if you can't or don't know

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how, or we will show you, we will help you. We do

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seminars before the events, before the final, for instance,

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we show them the food, the drink, everything. We're not there to

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trip you up or catch you out. We are there to help you be the

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best person you can be. And you can see one of the

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most moving things for me is we have something called Team gold,

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where as long as you get to the semi finals, you are part of Team

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gold forever. And they run events and look after each other and speak to each

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other and keep in touch and all of this sort of stuff. But the final

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eight within the gold service scholarship become

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such a strong unit because of what they've been

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through during the course of the competition. Every year,

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group remain friends for life. This is.

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We're glad that it's happened, but it's not anything that we said, you know,

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you will form a WhatsApp group, you will speak to each other regularly, you others

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will. It just happens organically and you can see just before

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the scholar is actually announced, that happens every year

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that they all sit holding hands together, the front

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row, because it's the sort of the group

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together waiting to find out who is the scholar. And when the

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scholar is announced, the other seven are just as happy as the scholar

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for that person to have won, and that's a natural thing that happens,

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which is quite wonderful. I could not agree with you

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more. It's just a fabulous, fabulous thing. And I felt incredibly privileged

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to be there this year. It was a stunning event. It's

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just, you know, in a world of doom and gloom, it's just, I think

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these things are so essential in reminding us all that there's so much brilliance goes

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on on a daily basis and having awards to kind of recognize that the

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gold service being won and all of the other ones that you do as well

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are so, so important about reminding people that

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we are watching and we are listening and we are seeing what you're doing. And

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it's important that we mark these moments of positivity in people's lives to

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help keep them elevated and keep them wanting to push

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on and do more. Well. And one of the big things of

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all, well, the annual awards and certainly the gold survey

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scholarship, is that the prizes that they all

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get are all educational prizes that keeps pushing

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them forward. You don't just have the great party at Claridge's. And I didn't

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have much time to talk to you on the night because I sort of spend

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my life running around. I know so many people

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and all the fabulous food that they prepare for us at Claridge's. And everybody says

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to me, oh, have you had the lobster roll? I've got this. I'm like, yeah,

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yeah, in a minute. In a minute. All of a sudden it's 10:00 they're clearing

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down and like, I've had nothing, but we've just had the most terrific night because

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for us, it's a huge showcase every year. But

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the. What the kids get from these competitions, again, which makes

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them different to any other competition, is obviously the care and

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nurture and the following that they

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will have and the umbrella and the love and the protection that we will give

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them going forward and the team gold friendships that they make

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between themselves. But it's the educational programs that

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they are given. I mean, one of the prizes at the gold service scholarship

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is a week in Lausanne, the Ecolotelia de Lausanne,

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which is the most prestigious hospitality

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university in the world. And that costs an absolute fortune

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to go to, equivalent to if you're going to Harvard or

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Yale or something like that. Financially, our eight winning

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finalists get a week at Lausanne. That's part of their

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prize. So they all get to experience that, apart from

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just visiting vineyards, visiting

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Michelin starred restaurants, doing stages at the Ritz or

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at Core, or at the Waterside Inn, attending a

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banquet at the Royal household. I mean, who the hell ever gets to

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garden parties? Great within the Branson, Buckingham

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palace, but a state banquet being part of that, I mean, that

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is a unique, totally unique, once in a lifetime experience.

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That's one of the prizes you get. It is all geared

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around education and encouraging them to

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learn in the present, giving them

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experiences that they can take into the future, grow their careers, and then they

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will be in a position to give back at a later date in the way

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that we do not. Yeah, totally. And

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it's just. It's just absolutely wonderful. What a way to

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start what we are not. It's a Wednesday today, isn't it, that we're recording

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this just a wonderfully positive piece of

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work that you are doing and have done all the way through, it

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seems, your career to date. Thank you. And I don't

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mean that in a patronizing way. I mean, they really, really thank you

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for everything that you do within that. And I'm so, so,

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so grateful that I think even without this show, I don't even

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know if our paths would have ever crossed. So it's kind of, for

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me, I feel really privileged that I've been able to meet you and have this

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chat with you. That's such a sweet thing to say. Thank you so much.

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I mean, that's one of the lovely things about our industry that I always say.

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I don't understand why people don't view hospitality as the

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extraordinary career it is. I mean, it is just.

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You can be any size, any shape, any colour, any

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sex, any sexuality. You can walk in

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almost off the street into any job, and you will

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be picked, paid to learn a trade which you can then grow

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and to develop into whatever you want it to be. There is

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so. There's so much variety within hospitality. There's what

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you do, there's what I do. There is so much. And why we

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can't sell this. I just don't understand. No, I

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know. Yeah. Well, we keep trying. I think that's the thing.

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We have to keep trying. Yeah. Yeah. And

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stronger together, unite the clans. Stronger. Absolutely, totally,

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totally agree. Brilliant. Natasha, thank you so much for

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your time. I feel like I could talk to you all day, to be honest,

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but we can't do that. In fact, we

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should. I think we should. Absolutely. Yes. Well, we'll have a coffee

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or a wine or something like that at another time. Very good. And set the

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world to write and. And hospitality especially.

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Absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much and have a wonderful day ahead.

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Thank you, Phil, so much. Take care. You, too. See you soon.

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Bye.