The Full Range sat down with acclaimed chef and true titan of the hospitality industry, Andrew Bennett MBE. Fresh from being made Honorary Vice President of the Master Chefs of Great Britain at their annual lunch at Gleneagles Hotel, Andrew chatted to us about his time at Park Lane Hotel and the direction his career is taking, now that he has left his post there.
You started at the Park Lane Hotel in 1994 and you have only recently left your position as Food and Beverage Director. What was your fondest memory of working there?
You have many memories over the period of 22 years ranging from some spectacular events and serving many well known guests and celebrities and the multitude of challenges that they all present.
What really stands out for me personally in terms of events are the industry lunches and dinners that give you the opportunity to stretch yourself and the entire team in trying to deliver an outstanding occasion and experience under the spotlight of your peers.
But the most satisfaction anybody can have in a senior role, is the legacy you hopefully leave behind within all of the associates that have been under your guidance, knowing you have made some contributions to their personal journeys which will enable them to progress to a high level.
It was always a very proud moment when you arrived for work each day knowing that you were responsible for this iconic Hotel when you left school with very little.
You were made Banqueting Chef of the Year which is a huge accolade in London. Did that have any impact on sales in the events business and with high customer expectations did this put extra pressure on the brigade?
Winning any accolade is a representation of not only myself but for all the teams that contributed to the success of these moments, because without the team working hard together it simply wouldn’t have happened.
The award does give you increased leverage in promoting the Hotel on many fronts not only with clients but more importantly with the recruitment of associates to the Hotel.
I don’t believe this brought about any increased revenue in terms of day to day production, but it certainly gave you an advantage in generating more industry events which in turn gave the Hotel additional kudos within the industry.
We recently attended a talk about encouraging young people into the hospitality industry. How do we encourage young people into the kitchen?
This is the most challenging aspect of today’s modern world whereby the current generation don’t see the industry attractive enough, given its reputation associated with long hours and lack of incentives.
The industry is at last, in some cases, beginning to wakeup to the challenges of making the package for the future more attractive and until this is common place in conjunction with the ever increasing growth of Hotels and restaurants it will struggle.
How we attract young recruits to enjoy this amazing career, is by bringing cooking back into all school levels starting at junior school level and beyond ,because some of the best competitions I have had the privilege to judge have been school children, because they have no fear of failing, and in a short period of time they get a strong feeling of achievement and let’s face it, cooking is fun and a never-ending learning curve.
The Full Range works with some of the country’s finest hotels, restaurants, event caterers and hugely talented craftsmen. Which chef do you admire most and why?
This question is always a tough one as I feel the chefs that changed the industry from my early days in the 70s and 80s for ever are the likes of the Roux Brothers for their entrepreneurial adventures and raising the bar to Michelin levels never encountered in this country which at the time wasn’t taken seriously for food.
I always mention Anton Mossiman for introducing Nouvelle Cuisine and for whatever you thought about this period it did change our presentation skills despite the small portions.
Peter Kromberg was another influence on modern food production as he introduced plated Banqueting for large numbers good enough to grace any restaurant and hot Soufflés which were a revelation for their time and still are today.
I think one of the unsung heroes also for me was Robert Carrier who also introduced modern menus with international flavours from his travels as a food writer journalist and restauranteur. In the 80’s he was clearly ahead of the pack in terms of menu content and introducing fixed price menu’s with subsidies for certain dishes,which still would stand the test of time in many restaurants today.
In your role at Park Lane Hotel, you must have been approached by many food purchasing companies. Did you use any to source your produce or was this done directly with suppliers?
The purchasing system throughout all our UK Hotels & properties and was controlled by our own purchasing team with all the UK chefs having an input into the final contacts prior to being committed, which included, at its peak a total of 12 establishments. The format was very similar to The Full Range in regards to only using one supplier for each category. This encouraged the suppliers to take great care in providing good quality and service with such big volumes involved.
We think that the simple things done well are the best, but not always the easiest! What is your favourite meal to cook? Or does Liz do the cooking at home?
Now theres a story as we both went to the same school and we both took O level cookery and Liz passed and I failed like most of my subjects at school!! because the theory was boring. luckily Liz hates cooking and can’t boil an egg!!!
For many years when all 3 of our boys lived at home Sunday was the production day whereby I produced all the food for the entire week so it made life a lot easier for all concerned as I was rarely at home as you would expect.
The dish that always has been a hit as to be Smoked Haddock Risotto or any form of chicken dishes including curries and cajun / peri peri and of course the classic Sunday Roast.
What direction is your career going in now you have left Park Lane? Do you miss the buzz, cut and thrust of the kitchen?
I truly don’t miss getting up at 05.30 in the morning and travelling down the M1 each day. I always planned to finish in the fast lane by the age of 60 anyway, and begin to spend more time at home and enjoy the grand children. When you consider the hours I have done over many years compared to the average man in the street, I deserve to slow down.
The opportunities I have now include lots of judging and more recently consulting for The Full Range which is simply a perfect match as I have the time to constantly network and have learnt so much by simply connecting with old and new colleagues.
You had a negative view of food purchasing companies having had poor experiences with others in the past. In your opinion, what sets The Full Range apart from other companies you have dealt with?
The reputation of the giants of the purchasing world was a very negative story from the feedback that circulated amongst the world of chefs, and the frustrations at being told without any discussion, as to where you were permitted to purchase your products, with a lot of inconsistent quality included. The Full Range is a simple business plan which is based on quality and excellent service levels, and if these main criteria are not reached, you can simply walk away with no recriminations, commissions or penalties, and this to me sounds a fair and controllable option that makes sense to explore. Having known George personally for over 25 years I am very confident he simply wouldn’t want to not deliver on all these priorities.