Food trends: the only thing constant is change.

The FSCI (Foodservice Consultants Institute) held their international conference last week where the debate turned to food and business trends that might be on the hospitality landscape in 2020. Insects on the menu, South East Asian food, aging diners and nutritional guidelines were the some of the main headlines in the discussion. 

Insects I'm not too sure about, but the other three are definitely due for a big appearance on the horizon in my humble opinion.
But first, let's think about the concept of 2020 for a second. It sounds so futuristic in the 'science fiction' sense of the word. Even now I still picture Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A space odyssey" as taking place during some distant time way off in the future when those fleeting twelve months have already well and truly left the building. And sadly, with no monolith to show for it. (Imagine that as a Y2K 'project of the people' rather than New Labour's recipe for blancmange, the Millennium Dome). But alas 2020 is only seven years away. Or six actually, with only weeks 'til the next New Year hangover.

So to get a concept of what trends might look like over such a timespan, let's take a look back at the last seven years. For me personally, the UK had a fresh appeal having just arrived back after an eight year spell in Kathmandu during which time I looked around at what might become the 'next big thing'. 

Boutique hotels immediately spring to mind with suede throws in rooms of Farrow and Ball autumnal shades. Gastro-pubs too were attracting Celebrity chefs away from expensive starched tableware and into low maintenance wood floors. The PubCos rubbed their hands with glee as articles in the Caterer & Hotelkeeper encouraged chefs that this was their easiest route to running their own business. It was. But it was also a honey trap. Within a matter of months, Gordon Ramsay Holdings snapped up The Narrow for £4M quid, quickly following with The Devonshire and then The Warrington. Worral-Thompson (remember him?) took on The Greyhound while media-phwoar Jean Christophe Novelli took on Green King tenancies at the white Horse in Harpenden and The French Horn in Steppingly (a pun no doubt appealing to ladies of a certain age.)

During this time the buzzwords to catch the wave were 'casual dining'; 'grazing dishes'; 'tapas fusion' and 'Modern British'. And bars. Just insert a generic word in front of the word bar and voila! - a new concept is born: juice bars, coffee bars, seafood bars, dessert bars, noodle bars... you get the idea.

As for actual food trends, I'd say the rise and rise of coffee - yes it is food for the purpose of this topic - has been quite relentless. It has even been mooted as the saviour of the ailing pub. Nothing is.

The branding of sustainability has also increased, with logos such as Red Tractor, Freedom Assured and MSC making their way onto the menu for customers to feel more considerate in their choice of animal flavoured protein.

Artisan pizzas, dirty burgers, gourmet hot dogs and chipotle chilli burritos have all had their fifteen minutes of fame. And for that sweet tooth we have seen seasonal macaroons, salted caramel you-name-it, water-based ganache truffles, doughnuts, cronuts and now vintage-plated retro sponge cakes thanks to the meteoric rise of amateur baking as championed on Great British Bake Off.

Just like the proverbial soufflé however, what goes up must come down and as such, these too will come to pass.

Boutique hotels are being squeezed out by the budget brands of Premier Inn and Travelodge while the Gastro-pub business model lauded by the brightest and best turned into huge liabilities as a result of the recession with many of them having been sold on to naive new owners keen to make their mark. (To be fair, a few continue to beat the odds - Tom Kerridge championing honest-to-goodness British food at his two-star-Michelin Hand and Flowers is riding a crest just now. And deservedly so after years of hard work at the stove.)

Seven years from now in 2020, we WILL care more about the nutritional value of our dining-out choices. We WILL be keen to try new and authentic micro-regional dishes from Asian countries that we or our children are travelling to. We will even eat a few insects if the right celebrity chef or brand can get behind the initiative. 

What WON'T happen however is the stagnation or grinding to a halt of these continual food trends and new business concepts. Certainly not as long as organisations like the FCSI, Academy of Catering Excellence, Institute of Hospitality, Arena, BHA and a host of other professional bodies continue to foster debate, research and discussion among their members to ensure the industry stays vibrant for decades to come. 

As a veteran casino owner once said to me after 40 years in Nepal: "the only thing constant here, is change." I suspect the same applies to food trends and business concepts in the year 2020.

BaxterStorey's award-winning recipe.

“If you have the choice of one or two companies to work for and BaxterStorey is one of them, go with BaxterStorey as your first job in contract catering. You won’t regret it. Their training and development is unparalleled”
That was the advice offered to me by my friend Stewart four years ago. He worked with me back in the day as a Commis Patissier at the Ritz and was speaking from personal experience of the company. In time a role within Baxterstorey did come up and having followed his advice, I have to say; he was bang on the money. I have not regretted a single minute. 

Over the last few months however, I found myself thinking about what he meant by that training and development that BaxterStorey is so renowned for. In my own case, I have had the most fantastic journey of personal and professional development which culminated in a business project presentation to the board of directors (with Alastair Storey himself only three feet away… Gulp!) that wrapped up our year-long Advanced Management Programme in the Leadership Academy.  

What other signs are there of this training success? Does it show up in other ways that perhaps I am not aware of? Or is my own experience the 'norm', where my commitment to personal development has helped me work out a longer term career plan. Yes, there is the unparalleled revenue growth BaxterStorey has seen, but I wanted to look deeper than that. Does it manifest itself in real skills and leadership excellence rather than just sales-speak?

A couple of months ago, one of our top Baristas, Don Altizo made it into the UK finals of the National Barista Championships. With some serious competition from artisan independent barista conquistadors from all over the country, this was quite a milestone for a Foodservice Caterer of our size. Naturally we were thrilled with that result and I’m sure Don will push harder next year to top that. It is certainly vindication that our Barista Academy run by Tim Sturk is making a real difference.

Then word trickled through that one of our sales team managers, Tim Axe was through to the finals in the UK National Sales Manager of the Year Awards. In front of an audience and panel of judges, he will have to make the pitch of a lifetime if he is to beat off some stiff competition from other industry sectors including media and technology.

In the meantime, the list of finalists in the UK Restaurant Manager of the Year was announced with two, yes TWO, BaxterStorey managers among them; Louise Denton from the English National Opera and Janine Swales, General Manager at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Seeing as there were contestants from one or two of the best known Michelin star properties in the UK, this was quite an achievement in and of itself.

And then there is Hayden. Hayden Groves is an Executive Chef based in London and for the last three years has come soooooo close to winning the National Chef of the Year, it’s not even funny. A case study in tenacity, Hayden’s Twitter feed is peppered with insanely early starts, late trips home and a dedication to long distance cycling that borders on psychotic. Which is why it came as no surprise (to me, at least) that he had once again put himself through to the finals this year since he has proven himself more than capable of competing at that level.

With bated breath we settled in to await the outcomes of these various contests where winning can be a life-changing event for the victor. First up was the Restaurant Manager of the Year finals which were held on Monday just gone. This involved a full day of exemplary restaurant skills, food and wine pairing and business presentation acumen in the form of a Dragon’s Den style pitch to a panel of judges. Whew! I shudder to think what kind of pressure they were under. Eventually it was the judges turn to consider their decision and it was a stunning one. Janine Swales, General Manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club had prevailed. To have two contestants participating was testament to the talent we attract at BaxterStorey, but for one of them to be crowned overall winner - an industry first - is proof that Foodservice Catering is no longer the ‘poor relation‘ to the rest of the hospitality industry.

Winner Janine Swales with chief judge Peter Avis
Two days later and our focus turned to Hayden as the National Chef of the Year Finals got under way. He sent a couple of tweets of thanks to wellwishers on the train in and that was the last we heard from him for the day. Time to let his food do the talking. With a judging panel that held a handful or two of Michelin stars between them underscores the pressure these chefs were under to prepare, cook and deliver perfection. Consistency and steely determination were the main ingredients required as the clock ticked away. Plate after plate was sent through to eagerly awaiting tasting spoons while tweet after tweet was shared and dissected. I was riveted at the tension of it all, and that was just in my office at work.

Hayden Groves (ably assisted here by Pastry Chef Phil Skinazi)
We will never know how close it really came, but to say that the judges deliberated for 90 minutes tells me there wasn’t a cigarette paper between victor and vanquished. Eventually someone took the microphone to thank sponsors and volunteers while Twitter exploded with excited impatience as we held our breath for the big announcement. 

"Third place goes to…" not Hayden. Thank goodness. 

"In second place…" oof, again not Hayden. That’s a good thing right? He has to be first. Or what if..what if he's not first? I quickly tweeted "All or Bust!" as I prepared myself for the worst....

"And the 2013 National Chef of the Year is… Hayden Groves of BaxterStorey." A huge collective cheer went up while a torrent of tweets from well wishers came through.

Noel Mahony, our co-CEO, wasn't letting me off the hook with my 'doubting Thomas' tweet of 'All or bust!'. He tweeted:
Top man indeed. And top woman in the form of Janine the previous evening. Within two days we - the collective BaxterStorey we - had scooped the National Chef and National Restaurant Manager of the Year Awards. A stunning double in skills excellence that makes me proud to be associated with such talent and dedication. From Coffee to Restaurant Service to Hospitality benchmarking to Cooking Skills to Sales to Training to HR... we have been up there competing with the best of the best in UK industry. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because someone decided that to be at our best we need to attract talent, nurture talent and promote talent. And that is something quite a few of us want to be a part of. 

Well done Hayden Groves and Janine Swales and Don Altizo. Best of luck to Tim Axe (no pressure buddy!) and to all my colleagues shortlisted in multiple categories of the upcoming Caterer and Hotelkeeper's Foodservice Catey awards due to be announced on Friday night. (I won't tempt fate by naming a few more, but you know who you are!)

And thank you to my friend Stewart for pointing me in the direction of a company that puts such focus on training and development. Despite disappointing news regarding a certain MBA scholarship that eluded me, I guess now I need to see if I can convert some of my own self-development into something exciting in the near future. When a tweet like this comes through from the CEO...

..all I can say is watch this space.

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Uncharted territory and a man with Compass

As the Institute of Hospitality Annual Lunch concluded, we had an opportunity to mingle for a few minutes and I have to thank my friend Melvin Gold FIH (a fine Hotel Consultant who can be contacted here for the best of industry advice. You’re welcome Melvin.) for calling me over to introduce someone he thought I should meet. Knowing I work within Foodservice Catering, he must have enjoyed the look on my face as I found myself shaking hands with Ian Sarson, the Group MD of Compass UK & Ireland. 

Ian Sarson, MD, Compass UK & IRE
Now, for anyone reading this who may be unfamiliar with our industry, Compass is the largest Foodservice Caterer in the UK employing 50,000 people in the sector today. Globally speaking, Compass is the 11th largest employer in the world. So needless to say, I was chuffed at the opportunity to meet and chat with one of the key leaders within our industry.

We talked about the challenges we faced along the way as he mentioned the Disney contract he oversaw many years ago in Hong Kong around the time I was opening my operation in Kathmandu. Coming back to the challenges of today, I thought it was funny, in an ironic way, that we both stood looking at the same crossroads. The road to contract catering Nirvana was traditionally found on the highway of client satisfaction. Now the industry faces a left turn towards retail and direct customer appeal and a right turn off the beaten track towards social media engagement between employees, customers, clients and stakeholders. Suddenly size is not the advantage it used to be and there are certainly no shortcuts.

But here’s the great thing about hospitality and events such as this. Rather than a stilted conversation with no common ground, we both talked about starting out as chefs in the business and how important it was to understand the fundamentals of your craft if you are to progress up the ladder. With a little hard work and perhaps a pinch of luck, the opportunity is there to progress to the very highest levels. This is an industry that rewards the go-getters from every walk of life and Ian Sarson exemplifies this.

Whichever respective roads we take, it was certainly a pleasure to meet Mr. Sarson along this one and I thank him for being so generous with his time. On occasions like this, you can just go along for the lunch, but it’s better to come away with some great food for thought.

Shared Excellency, Springboard Ambassadors

Over the last few months, I have been mulling over how best to use my talent and passion for this industry to somehow 'give something back'. After sounding out some ideas, I was delighted to get an email saying that BaxterStorey was committed to recruiting a number of Springboard Ambassadors from within our business across the UK who could support some initiatives such as National Waiters Day and spread the word about what we do best and the Hospitality sector in general. That seemed like just the ticket for me and promptly signed up for the two days training on offer.
Springboard Ambassadors: (L-R) Scott, Cynthia, Renaud, Joanna, Ewa, Hannah, Kevin, David

Finally, on Tuesday morning we arrived at the gorgeous Blue Fin Building in Southwark. I guess one of the advantages of catering for some of the most prestigious companies in the UK is that you get to visit some stunning venues for your meetings and training. It was great to catch up with my friend (and fellow alumni from the Leadership Academy) Hannah who had travelled down from Nottingham. She's now expecting a baby. Luck girl. Meeting new colleagues within the business is always special and this was no different. Renaud for example was a very suave Frenchman who coaches kid's football on the weekends and David who is a part-time Police Community Support Officer go some way to demonstrating the calibre of professionalism in this roomful of Springboard Ambassadors-in-waiting.

Eventually Eileen, our warm and friendly trainer for the next two days, began the session with two simple questions: Who is our audience? and What effectively 'float's their boat'? If you identify those two aspects at the outset, you will build a very absorbing presentation that will really engage your audience. As Springboard Ambassadors, our target audience groups could be 15 and 16-year-old school children; unemployed people at a job centre; women returning to the world of work or perhaps undergraduates in their final year of college. Each group will be looking for different motivators. For example, friendship and feeling valued will appeal to women returning to work (very much part of our ethos by the way), whereas the potential to meet or look after celebrities might appeal to school leavers. (Some might laugh at that idea, but I still find that to be a huge attraction within this industry and was very honoured to be looking after the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago.)

During that first day, we had to make a five minute presentation to the group with Eileen giving us feedback, encouragement and guidance on areas of improvement. It was amazing to see nine totally different presentations based around just one set of audience/objectives criteria. Then we were given the dreaded homework: our task was to put together a ten minute presentation aimed at a different sector to be delivered to the group on Day Two. I don't like commuting if I can help it, but on this occasion I was happy to work on my slide deck during the two hour bus ride home and and again on the way back in the next morning. By the time I arrived back in that room, I felt I had something reasonably presentable.

One by one, my colleagues got up and made hugely compelling presentations that reminded me time and again of all the good things we do as a company and what our industry has to offer on the whole. Kevin for example described how he had considered being a van driver when he was leaving school, but his father counceled against it with the immortal phrase: You've heard people say; 'He's a great Chef', but who's ever said; 'He's a great van driver!'?

With this in mind, Kevin went on to catering college, but found he preferred the role of Waiter instead of cooking. Working his way up the career ladder, he now looks after the Executive Dining Rooms within the headquarters of a very large bank. And then Kevin said something very powerful.... "When the Chief Executive of the Bank is sitting down to lunch, he needs to present an image of responsibility and care on behalf of the Bank. Therefore the manner in which the lunch is served must reflect that. During those few minutes, the waiter presents the image the bank wants to convey to those guests. Professional and caring." Now that carries a lot of responsibility.

Eventually, we finished up our course and set off back home with aspirations of encouraging lots of new people to join our great sector. My enduring thought for anyone considering a career in Hospitality, is to remember Kevin's story. He chose to be a Waiter who delivers a great guest experience every day instead of just a van driver who simply makes deliveries. That's a journey worth taking.

If you want to get involved in volunteering as a Springboard Ambassador, contact Kerry Mabbley, Head of Ambassadors at Springboard UK on 07916 758775 or email her: