National Chef of the Year
“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.
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.
|Winner Janine Swales with chief judge Peter Avis|
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.
|Hayden Groves (ably assisted here by Pastry Chef Phil Skinazi)|
"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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