How I Got Here: Luke Garnsworthy

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here chief executive Crockers Luke Garnsworthy former chef de partie at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Related tags: Fine dining, Restaurant, Chef

Luke Garnsworthy, previously chef de partie at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, is the founder of fine dining group Crockers, which operates restaurants in Tring and Henley.

Why restaurants?
I grew up in the industry and am the fourth or fifth generation in my family to be in hospitality. My parents opened the original Crockers in Exeter in the late 80’s so I spent my early years exposed to the industry.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
That working long hours for crazy low wages isn’t big or clever and certainly isn’t something to brag about. Also that’s it’s ok to have doubts about this career. I wanted to leave the industry for a while and actually did stop cooking before I started the business. I fell out of love with the hours, illegal pay and general disregard for hospitality staff. However, it’s an itch that doesn’t go away and I was drawn back to it but driven to make a change to the horrific working conditions of the past.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
That’s really tricky. I’d have to say Make It Nice as Eleven Madison Park is my absolute favourite place and the best meal I’ve ever had! Saying that, Gordon Ramsay is a hero of mine so perhaps his group too.

What motivates you?
My wife. Without doing anything she pushes me to be better and make a success of the business and myself. She’s very driven herself and that helps me. Also my son who was born in April during lockdown. I want to be the best father and role model I can be for him.

What keeps you up at night?
Cashflow! It’s hard enough in this industry. It’s harder when you open a new restaurant straight after lockdown. It’s even harder when you now have a vast amount of debt to repay as well as all the usual overheads. The VAT cut and business rates holiday are great short term fixes but it’s going to take a long time to recover from this.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
Ashley Palmer-Watts was my head chef at Dinner. The way he ran the kitchen with such respect for the team, it was calm but so calculated and precise. I took a lot from Dinner. I’m lucky I now have three investors in my business who are also directirs and I consider them excellent mentors. None of them have a hospitality background but two are extremely successful business men and the other had an amazing career in politics so they really bring a mixed bag to the table that I can use to grow as a CEO.

What time do you wake up?
5:30am.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, black, and lots of it.

How often do you check your email?
Twice a day at 6am and 4pm.

How do you let off steam?
Cycling and the gym.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
On the sofa.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
Steak, eggs, peas and béarnaise.

Typical Sunday?
On the laptop trying to work out how we come out of this pandemic in one piece.

Worst business decision?
Opening a restaurant? Haha! No I’m joking. Over employing which then puts stress on the cashflow and bottom line.

Best business decision?
That’s opening a restaurant. I love it! I’ve never been so stressed and tired in my life as I am right now. That’s all washed away when you walk into the restaurants and see the teams in the groove. It’s like a beautiful dance.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Find someone/somewhere that you can learn from but that they also care about you as a human. Basics like 45 hour weeks and a decent wage make learning in the industry and expelling so much easier. Then just get your head down, work hard, open your eyes and ears and enjoy the ride.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
Just one? That’s tough. The public’s perception of our worth and value. I employ chefs and especially the head chefs that I consider to be at the top of thir game. They’re magicians. They should be earning £150k+ like the equivalent in some corporate dot com business. The problem is the public generally, don’t value us enough to pay the £400 a head for a tasting menu we need to achieve this. We charge £100 a head for ours which works out at £33.33 an hour for the meal. That’s not just going to the team either that has to pay everything. How many other highly skilled (sorry Boris) industries would you pay someone that’s worked 10, 15, 20+ years to hone their craft less than £33 an hour for their time? It has to change but I don’t know how. While there are still all these chains banging out frozen rubbish for pennies, we’ll never get there.

Bio

Born in Exeter, Garnsworthy never went to catering college, but in his first job did take on the role of a chef lecturer’s assistant Ashburton Cookery School. From there he entered the kitchen as a commis chef at Michael Caines at the Royal Clarence hotel in Exeter. In the coming years he worked his way through the ranks of the kitchen across several restaurants, eventually becoming chef de partie at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London. However, in 2014 he left cooking to launch his own business. A year later he launched fine-dining concept Crockers, hosting supper clubs and dinner parties. In 2018 he opened his first Crockers restaurant in Tring, Hertfordshire. Earlier this year he opened a second site in Henley, Oxfordshire.

Related topics: Chef, People, Profiles, Restaurant

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