He spoke to BigHospitality about the challenges of running a 24 hour restaurant and why the industry needs to challenge its televised image.
How’s Chefs of Tomorrow going so far?
It’s going really well. The first series has now finished and next year we’re looking at having chefs host a whole dinner by themselves instead of doing it in groups. We want them to mentor each other but also have that window in to what the future will be like. It’s about trying to inspire people outside the industry to get involved.
Why did you decide that encouragement was needed?
I don’t think the chef-related TV we have at the moment is something that entices people in to the industry. It shows it as very Michelin-heavy, hard-core, and intense with everyone working long hours - and I don’t think that’s a true reflection of the industry.
I think young kids are maybe scared to get in to the business and they think it’s for the SAS elite-type people. I don’t think that’s true. I’m not slating Michelin restaurants, I’m just saying they’re only 0.1 per cent of the industry – there’s more to it.
Should the industry do more to reach out to young people?
Yeah, because everyone says there’s a shortage of chefs. We’re kind of the victims of our own success. I don’t think people know enough about the industry and how diverse it is. You don’t have to be in a three Michelin-starred restaurant, you can be doing other things.
Duck & Waffle is a 24-hour restaurant – what’s the most challenging aspect?
Just the fact that it never stops. Training is hard and we have to do it in pockets of four or five groups. Also the logistics of being on top of a skyscraper, it all adds up.
What are your busiest hours?
On a busy day we’ll do 1000-1200 covers. Between Thursday and Sunday the restaurant is always full, so there’s is no busiest time. Overnight we’ll do 350 covers between midnight and five am.
How does staffing work?
My number one rule is that no one works a time of day that they don’t want to. Generally our night chefs are all young mums and dads who go home in the morning, take their kids to school, sleep during the day and then are there when their children get home. It’s a great opportunity for someone who wants to work at a high level but doesn’t want to quit cooking just because they’ve had a child.
A number of top restaurants have reduced their staff hours recently to improve work/life balance, do you think restaurants need to start being more flexible?
I think you have to listen to your team, and there’s not one rule for everyone. Some of our guys want to work 70-80 hours a week and some want to work 30. Because we pay hourly we have the flexibility to do that. So there’s no financial impact if you have ten people working 20 hours or 20 people working 10 hours.
You’ve been working with Santa Maria Tellicherry Black Pepper to create some special recipes, do you have any tips for chefs when using pepper?
I think to begin with chefs need to respect it more, and find the pepper that suits them. Play around with it and get to know how it can work in dishes. Also learn a bit about where it comes from – I think when you know more about a product you can get so much more from it.
What’s next for you and Duck & Waffle?
We’ve got lots coming up but nothing I can tell you at the moment! There are a few things we are still dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s on and I don’t want to jinx it. The next few years are going to be a busy time for us, that’s all I can say.