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Interviews > Pearls of Wisdom

Mark Poynton: Pearls of Wisdom

By Carina Perkins+ , 20-Jun-2014
Last updated on 20-Jun-2014 at 10:27 GMT2014-06-20T10:27:36Z

This business is all about making the customer happy because without customers, we don’t have anything - Mark Poynton

This business is all about making the customer happy because without customers, we don’t have anything - Mark Poynton

The British chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Alimentum and star of Great British Menu Mark Poynton talks about being on TV, the importance of customer satisfaction, and his belief in simple, seasonal food.

I was always into sport as a child and was not very academic. I used to play football to quite a high standard but took quite a bad injury when I was 15 and for a while I became a bit of a wild child and a loose cannon.

I got my first job in hospitality because I needed some money and my friend’s mum worked as a housekeeper in the Queen’s Hotel in Chester. She got me a job as waiter, which I did for a year, but I saw what the chefs were doing – finishing late every night and then going out drinking - and thought, that look like fun. So I became a chef at the age of 16.

I got turned down by Pail Kitching when I first applied for a job at Juniper. So I went there on my days off to wash pots and find out more about the food. When the guy he employed ahead of me walked out after 18 months, Paul offered me the job.

My biggest achievement? Working for seven and a half years for Daniel Clifford. He is notoriously one of the hardest chefs in the world to work for, especially when I was at Midsummer House. To work for him that long was a massive achievement.

Nine months after I started working as head chef at Alimentum, the owner John Hudgell told me it was going into administration. I handed in my notice but he told me two businessmen wanted to buy it. We had a meeting and they decided to buy the restaurant and give me a sharehold in it to run it for them.

Being known as Daniel’s number two is still a bit of a stigma. When I was on Great British Menu this year I was introduced as ‘Daniel Clifford’s protégé Mark Poynton’. I think that is my name sometimes because that is all you hear. Trying to shake that off has been quite hard.

Customer satisfaction is the most important part of running a restaurant. This business is all about making the customer happy because without customers, we don’t have anything. Everything else is secondary.

It takes consistency to win any accolade, including a Michelin star. Look at any of the big restaurant chains in the world and they are always consistent. At Alimentum we are are striving to get that consistency so connect with the restaurant and come back.

Business increased by about 65 per cent overnight when we won our Michelin star. We are still living off the back of it now. Personally it didn’t change that much, I just get recognised a bit more and get better tables at restaurants.

If you take the best produce you can buy and cook it simply you are going to have a great end product. We have always stuck to that and just try and source the best ingredients and the best ingredients are always seasonal, so that is what we do.

Being on TV is a bit daunting at first - having so many TV cameras in your face and having to work in an environment where you are not in charge is hard. But after two or three days you get used to the cameras and it becomes more natural.

Social media has made chefs more approachable to customers. If someone wants to ask you a question or just tell you they think you are a twat, they just go on Facebook or Twitter.

I think the restaurant scene is better outside of London than it is in London. Chefs outside London are more adventurous and have their own style. But on the whole I think the UK restaurant scene is great. We have a bright future ahead of us.

We have just had a new kitchen fitted which is all electric induction - so we have taken gas out the building completely. That saves us a lot of money each year and also brings the temperature of the kitchen down, so makes the working conditions better and will hopefully help us push the food more forward.

People want to work less for more money now. Long gone are the days where people will work happily for 80 hours a week for not a lot of money because they enjoy the job.

I really admire what Brett Graham is doing at the Ledbury. Everything about the way he runs his restaurant – his focus on seasonal produce, his ability to get the best flavour out of everything, the customer service, the fantastic wine – is totally inspirational.

My advice to young chefs is taste everything from start to finish and question everything you do. The moment you stop questioning is the moment you stop caring in my opinion.

We are still looking for a second site. We were looking in London but that doesn’t seem achievable at the moment so we are looking for something in and around Cambridge. Maybe a pub, we will see what the future brings.

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