Assado is entering its second year now, how has it been establishing it at Hampton by Hilton London Waterloo?
We have worked hard to get the restaurant established. Assado is used for breakfast in the morning and it has been difficult for people to understand that it is also somewhere they can have lunch and dinner, but now 50 per cent of the guests staying here are also dining in the evening and that’s pretty good.
At Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen at Hilton Heathrow Terminal 5 that figure is higher and we're finding we have people booking in the hotel to eat in the restaurant, so the restaurant is now also contributing to the hotel’s occupancy. We have become a destination restaurant.
It can be tough to get restaurants within hotels to work well, why is that?
Restaurants take their own sweet time to settle down and hotel restaurants in particular. Britain isn’t the same as Asia where hotel restaurants are very popular. People like going out to them for dinner. They like that they have valet parking and they love the feel of a lobby. Asians are like that.
It’s not the same in the UK. Restaurants in hotels here don’t have the same status as standalone ones sometimes and it’s harder to establish one in a hotel, except when there’s a name attached to it and then it can have a different effect. So for me, in that respect, it has worked better.
Would you open more restaurants within hotels considering your recent success?
Yes, I’d do it again. When you have a restaurant in a hotel, the hotel also takes an interest and that helps. Because someone is always present at a hotel restaurant I don’t have to worry about day-to-day headaches and that to me is a great bonus. I can discuss everything about the restaurant with the hotel’s general manager and takes the burden off. It also helps with the decision making. Because a hotel manager doesn’t think like a restaurant manager and a restaurateur doesn’t think like a hotelier, it helps to have the two working side by side.
As well as running your restaurants you support a large number of industry competitions (National Chef of the Year, Young Seafood Chef of the Year and Zest Quest Asia to name a few), why is that?
It is very important. When I was a budding chef in India we always looked at the best for inspiration, because there was nothing else out there that would help us develop. The advantage I had was I worked for a large group of hotels and was sent abroad to widen my horizon on food.
Britain is at this cusp of greatness in cuisine, but we haven’t evolved with manpower and retention of chefs. There are so many enthusiastic young people starting out, but then often they leave the industry.
If you ask anyone at the moment - and the Asian sector is the worst - their biggest problem is manpower. It’s not that the industry is now a hard task master, it’s not that it’s not paying well, it’s just that the motivation is not carried through.
I think supporting other competitions and launching my own competition Zest Quest Asia (to encourage British kids to look at cooking Asian food too) is my way of doing my bit and helping the future of the industry.
It’s tough because everyone wants a piece of me, but I try my best. It's only Sundays I refuse to do anything because that’s the day with the boss (Cyrus’ wife, Pervin).
Competitions can be time consuming for all involved, not just judges, how would you persuade restaurant owners to push their staff forward to enter them?
There are two benefits, there is kudos for the restaurant if the individual wins and it is also a major boost to the competition winner’s confidence. It helps them to aspire to be better. The owner may lose that individual eventually, but what will happen is by allowing that person paid time off to go through a competition and then win, you’re indirectly earning you’re buying their loyalty. If you let them enter, that individual will say, 'if they allow me to do this, the least I can do is give them more of my time until I reach a ceiling and have to move on to something else'.
You say the industry's biggest problem currently is manpower, what is causing the staff shortage in your opinion?
I ask a lot of teachers why this happens and they often say students find it difficult to cope with the hours of work, but I think education needs to revitalise and revamp itself.
The education system here is based on putting people on seats and funding is drawn down on the number of students you can enlist. The problem is you don't always attract the best students or they haven't always selected hospitality as the first choice.
Education also creates this odd scenario that the only way to success is through a Michelin star and while it’s fabulous to have a star under your belt, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the industry. Ninety-nine per cent of the industry doesn’t own a star, it relies on providing good quality food in a great ambiance and making people happy.
Visiting a Michelin-star restaurant is a lovely experience for diners, but the majority of people eat out in normal restaurants and and this needs to be drummed into students, that the industry is a great place and that your main aim should be to make people happy wherever they are.