How I got to where I am now:
I was 15 when I started out in the industry, doing weekend work as a commis waiter at the three Michelin star Georges Blanc restaurant at Vonnas in France. I didn't do very well at school and my mother suggested I consider my weekend job as a formal career, so I went to catering school while continuing to work part-time at Georges Blanc.
I did that for five years before having to do my compulsory military service for 10 months. When I returned to my job I decided I wanted to progress, but I was told that if I wanted a promotion I'd need to speak some English and get some grey hair, so my mum said "go to England for six months to learn it". Where I worked had a link with Le Gavroche, so in 1998 at the age of 22 I came here as a commis waiter and never went back.
The style of service here in the UK is very different from that in France. We provide a more familiar and friendly service than they do in France where in a two or three Michelin star restaurant, staff will not speak to the customers. We like to be friendly, yet professional, people should feel at home when they visit us. I preferred this approach which was one of the reasons I stayed.
At Le Gavroche I progressed from commis waiter to commis maitre d' and then further up the ladder until I took over from Silvano in 2008. Silvano is a living legend and yes, he has big shoes to fill, but he was the best teacher. To take over from him was both difficult and easy. Difficult because he left such a huge legacy, but easy because he had prepared me so well that when I took over it felt really natural. The hardest part was handling the clientele , but I'd known them for 10 years, so it wasn't too hard. Now my English is a lot better, but I don't have any grey hair yet.
My greatest achievement:
Achieving a Master of Culinary Arts (MCA). I tried for it in 2005 with Silvano as my mentor, but I didn't manage it. The Academy of Culinary Arts only run it every four years, so I went for it again in 2009 and got it. I was so proud. Only a small number of people get the award which recognises your skills in wine and food service and it's very hard to get it. I spent the six months before focusing on it completely, learning everything I could to get it, so to me it was a major achievement.
My biggest challenge:
Taking over from Silvano. He had been in the role for 30 years and was so good at his job, but if you take over from the best maitre d' in the world it is going to feel difficult for six months and I was prepared for that.
My top tips for succeeding in service:
When people come to Le Gavroche I say, 'give up everything you have learned so far and learn again from scratch' because we have our own approach here. I would never take someone from another company who had a higher rank than a commis waiter, or who wasn't prepared to start again as a commis, because I think you have to learn things the right way and build up skills as you go.
For far too long in this country front-of-house has been seen as a student job, but it's not a job it's a profession. I have got a lot of hope in the new Gold Scholarship to help inspire a new generation of people to take up careers front-of-house. Forty years ago we didn't have any British waiters in the restaurant. We have a few more now, but not enough for my taste. I would love to see more. The expectation from the scholarship is finding someone who one day could replace us (The Gold Scholarship founders Landre, Fred Sirieix, Willy Bauer and John Davey).
Where I love to eat out:
I really like Kitchen W8 in Kensington, it has a really nice relaxed atmosphere there, but I also love going to Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester - it's a different experience, but they are equally great places to go.