Bank assets

30 May 2001
Bank assets

There is a perceived wisdom in the catering industry that chefs do not make the transition from culinary wizards to restaurateurs and business managers easily. Clearly bucking that perception, though, are Christian Delteil and Idris Caldora, both of whom were highly skilled and respected chefs (Delteil had garnered a Michelin star for his former restaurant, L'Arlequin, and Caldora is one of a select band of Master of Culinary Arts holders) before donning suits with the Bank Restaurant Group.

Delteil's progress from chef-proprietor of the Michelin-starred L'Arlequin restaurant eight years ago to his present position as managing director of the Bank Restaurant Group is significant. Then, he was responsible for a 45-seat restaurant helped by just a handful of staff. Now, he employs around 300 staff split between three venues - Bank Aldwych (250 seats), Bank Westminster (220 seats) and Bank Birmingham (250 seats).

While running a small neighbourhood restaurant may seem worlds apart from looking after a public listed company with an annual turnover in excess of £10m, the earlier experience, he believes, has provided him with a more useful background than if he had undertaken any formal management training.

"Most people in management don't know what it is like to work on the floor, whether it is in the kitchen or in the restaurant," he says. "You can see that from the television programme Back to the Floor. Most of the company directors featured don't have a clue about what is involved at a basic level. But I know exactly the practicalities involved and the kinds of difficulties that can be experienced, and how they can affect staff morale - it's my great strength as managing director now."

Fish! expansion

Delteil assumed his present position in November following the sale of the three Bank restaurants to a group of private City investors for £10.25m by BGR to concentrate on the expansion of its Fish! restaurant chain. BGR has since changed its name to Fish!.

He had been with BGR since its formation in 1996 with the opening of its first restaurant, Bank in Aldwych. Then, he was chef-director, returning to the kitchen after an absence of three years since the closure in 1993 of the much-acclaimed L'Arlequin, in Battersea, south-west London.

In the interim he had joined the fish supply company, Cutty's, whose proprietors, Tony Allan, Ron Truss and Jeremy Ormerod, became his partners at Bank, along with restaurant manager Eric Garnier. While Delteil and Garnier provided the hands-on technical knowledge, the rest of the management team supplied the business acumen.

As the company expanded with the opening of Zander (since renamed Bank Westminster) and Bank Birmingham - together with the development of the Fish! brand - so Delteil began to assume a wider role, taking him beyond the kitchen door.

Now, as managing director of the Bank Restaurant Group, he is responsible for every aspect of the operation - both front and back of house. At heart, though, Delteil is still very much a chef. "I'm not out of the kitchen - I get back in there as much as I can and when I do, I like to move things around the stove and get involved. As a chef, that is something you never lose."

Delteil is supported in his new role by marketing director Ann Tonks, as well as Idris Caldora, operations manager, back of house, and Anders Baath, operations manager, front of house.

Caldora, like Delteil, has increasingly taken on a managerial role since joining the company. He joined BGR in June 1999 to open Bank Birmingham as executive chef and general manager. Now, as well as overseeing the running of the kitchens in the three restaurants, he is also responsible for food and equipment purchasing and all health and safety issues.

Having previously worked as executive chef at the Churchill Inter-Continental, he had some background of an operational role that helped to prepare him for the transition into his present position. The biggest difference, though, between the Churchill and Bank was the speed and quantity of à la carte covers served. "It scared me at first," he says. "Now I have no problem with being in the kitchen when we are serving 400 covers for dinner." In total, the three restaurants serve 7,500 covers per week.

The speed which is required in serving this number of covers is a major consideration when deciding what dishes can go on the Bank menu. Quality brasserie-style food served on a large scale has been the company's philosophy ever since the opening of the first restaurant five years ago. "That means we work hard on buying in the best produce and getting the flavours of the dish right, rather than spending time on fiddly garnishes," says Caldora. "Serving around 250 covers during a one-and-a-half to two-hour period over lunch puts us under a lot of pressure."

While there are a number of Bank signature dishes - such as sausage and mash with onion gravy (£9.95), fish and chips (using halibut with mushy peas and tartare sauce, £18.50), and bread-and-butter pudding (£4.80) - on the menus of all three restaurants, each head chef has the freedom to write his own menu.

"So long as a dish has been correctly costed, can be executed at a fast pace and has been approved by Christian and me, then it can go on the menu," says Caldora. "It is important that we don't stifle the creativity of the chefs. We employ our chefs because they are talented and we have to give them the chance to develop."

While the core elements of the menu reflect Delteil's French culinary heritage and Caldora's training, there are also examples of flavours from further afield. For example, among the current starters are seared tuna, miso dressing, pickled daikon (£9.50) and dressed crab, ginger, wasabi dressing (£12.50).

Deltail and Caldora believe attracting and retaining staff at Bank is vital to the future development of the company. As a result, they are constantly reviewing the pay and working conditions of employees. "For example, the chefs all work in air-conditioned kitchens and work shifts that are a maximum of eight hours," says Caldora. "If they want to work longer, then they will be paid for any extra hours.

"Bank Birmingham is one of the premier outlets in the city and we need to retain that status by paying our staff well." For instance, a commis in Birmingham will earn £11,000-£12,500, a demi-chef de partie £13,000, a chef de partie £15,000, and a sous chef £20,000, with some variation for ability and status.

An internal staff competition aims to improve morale and create a platform for promotion. Categories include the Bank Chef of the Year, Bank Waiter of the Year and Bank Bartender of the Year. The chefs have to create a starter, main course and dessert appropriate for the Bank menu. "Competitions are a great way of developing staff," says Caldora. "They provide everyone with a goal and help to create a team spirit. As and when the company grows, we have to be ready and that means consolidating the staff we have now."

Delteil expects the company will have doubled its portfolio to six Banks within five years. All major UK locations are being looked at, including Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as Dublin. A fourth outlet could open in London, and Delteil even hints at a Bank hotel, either developed by the company or in conjunction with an established hotel group.

Idris Caldora

Born in South Wales to Italian parents, 39-year-old Idris Caldora began his career as a chef at the age of 17 when he joined the Savoy hotel in London. After two years' training, he moved to the Dorchester for a further two years before doing a stage with Georges Blanc in France.

Returning to the UK, he took up the position of joint head chef with Roger Narbett at the Bell at Belbroughton, near Birmingham. His first solo head chef position came in 1987 at Bilborough Manor in York. Two years later he moved to Birmingham as chef de cuisine at the Swallow hotel, Birmingham, before travelling further south to become executive chef at London's Churchill Inter-Continental hotel.

In 1996, Caldora became one of an elite group of chefs to achieve the Master of Culinary Arts award. He was appointed executive chef and general manager of Bank Birmingham in 1999, becoming operations manager, back of house, of the Bank Restaurant Group last year.

Christian Delteil

Born in the French village of Caussade, near Toulouse, Christian Delteil, 47, began his career as a chef working for his uncle at the Hotel des Ambassadors in Cahors.

He worked in restaurants in Marseilles and Dijon, and then undertook his national service as a chef to an admiral in Brittany. In 1975 he moved to London to work at Le Gavroche. Jobs followed at London's Connaught and Chewton Glen in New Milton, Hampshire, where he earned a Michelin star.

Delteil opened L'Arlequin in Battersea, south-west London, in 1982 with his wife Geneviève, and won a Michelin star and an Egon Ronay Restaurant of the Year award.

Following the closure of the restaurant in 1993, he joined the fish supply company, Cutty's. In 1996 he opened Bank Aldwych as chef-director, and four years later became managing director of the newly formed Bank Restaurant Group.

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 24-30 May 2001

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