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Sectors > Restaurants

Tim Hughes: Pearls of Wisdom

By Stefan Chomka , 11-Jan-2013
Last updated on 11-Jan-2013 at 10:18 GMT

The chef-director at Caprice Holdings oversees the food at some of London's most prestigious restaurants, including Le Caprice, The Ivy and Scott's. He has just written his first cookbook, J Sheekey Fish. 

I wake up every day early, around five, and get the train with all my mates. Usually grumpy as sin.

If you’re incredibly bright and you’ve got natural talent then classical training doesn’t matter. Self-taught chefs, such as Simon Hopkinson and Rowley Leigh, come along but most people need to learn the classics.

Working for Marco [Pierre White] at Harvey’s was very intensive. I’d never been in an environment like that before. We used to do it like a boxing match. Round one was Monday morning and Saturday night it was ‘ding ding round 12, here we go’.

There are a lot of young chefs out there who are trying to be sous chefs before they’ve done the ground work. You’ve got to last the distance. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A lot of us are getting a bit long in the tooth now. Where do all the old chefs go?

I’ve been in the business since I was 16. I’m now 42. I could have done murder a couple of times and be free by now.

Once you do catering it’s in your blood. I’d like to think that I’d still be doing something in 10 years’ time.

At Caprice Holdings it is the restaurant’s name not the chef’s that counts. Le Caprice has had eight or nine chefs in the past 32 years, but when they leave it carries on.

I’ve never wanted my name above the door. A lot of the big boys have opened restaurants with their names, but also other places. It means there’s the potential to leave and move on to something different. You can’t sell your name.

I’m quite a shy, face-for-radio kind of guy. I don’t like to shout from a high building saying how great I am. I’m only as good as my team around me.

The sharing plate trend is quite difficult. I don’t think a lot of people in Mayfair want to share their food.

Marco really refined my look on food and Hixie [Mark Hix] gave me a wider knowledge that there’s not just French cooking out there.

Chefs are magpies. We all copy each other. I’m not the sort of person who says that’s my signature dish.

I don’t know if I’ve got the patience to cook high-end food. You can’t teach an old dog...

Social media is good, but you have to be careful in case you say the wrong thing. I’m on Twitter, but I can’t get my head around it. I’m the silent but deadly type.

I used to be a bit shouty in the kitchen, but I tend to walk away now and stay in areas that are not so confrontational. I’m like the old man. That’s what we used to call the head chef. ‘The old man’s in – hide it.’

When I worked with Marco every dish was cooked in one or two minute intervals – you knew what two, three, four minutes was. I’ve still got that. I can still do it as quick as my boys, but probably not every day.

A good chef is someone who is still prepared to learn. They also need to trust their staff and let them get on with it. It’s not good for a business if you’re there all the time, you’ve got to let people breathe.

The last place I visited abroad was San Francisco. It’s very foodie. The best pastry I’ve seen outside France is there.

At Le Caprice Chris [Corbin] and Jeremy [King] made you eat the food before it went out. That taught me that the customer is not the guinea pig. I’m always saying that to my pastry chefs because they tend to eat only part of a dish.

Lazy service and lazy food is very annoying. I don’t like lazy restaurants. And I don’t like upselling.

London needs Caprice Holdings and we need London.

I’ve watched my children grow up. Maybe that’s why I didn’t do my own thing. 

That’s quite important, because it’s food – you eat it and it’s gone. Your children are there forever.

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