Carte Blanc

30 July 2002
Carte Blanc

Clive Fretwell, 40, is the newly appointed group executive chef for Le Petit Blanc restaurant group. He has just returned to work a second time for Raymond Blanc.

I live in Wimbledon but, since I started at Le Petit Blanc earlier this summer, I'm away four days a week. I alternate between the four restaurants so, on a Monday morning, I'm up by 6am and out the door by 7am to catch a train. At some point along the way, I'll grab a coffee and a croissant.

Whichever restaurant I'm at that week, I'll arrive by lunchtime as service is starting. The first thing I'll do is talk separately to the chefs and restaurant managers about how things have been going since my last visit.

I don't like titles so I just call myself group chef. My job is to train both kitchen and front of house staff in hazard analysis, and to remind them to be constantly aware of the detail in everything.

Every day except Monday, however, I'm in the kitchen by 8am. The first thing I do is check the produce with the chef and start to prep up until about 10am. Then, until 11am, I'll often meet suppliers, get price lists and check for quality.

Noon heralds the beginning of service, which means I'm in the kitchen. I taste sauces and watch service, supervise the chefs and decide whether this needs a pinch of salt, or that should have some lemon juice.

From 2.30pm I'll be doing some food development training with the chefs and showing them new dishes. I think I'm very patient - you need to be in this job. And you need to focus, because there's no time to stop.

About 3pm there are usually more suppliers who want to meet me. And, at the moment, we have lots of interviewees for jobs at all the different restaurants, so I have to see them, too.

Head office will often contact me about something in the afternoon, or perhaps our PR company will ask me to do a media interview or arrange a photo shoot. In between, there are always a load of e-mails waiting for me to answer - usually more people trying to sell me something.

Although I'll drink water in the kitchen, I don't really stop to eat until about 5pm. Then, it's often just a sandwich or maybe some pasta. I won't necessarily sit down to eat if there are things to be done.

Up until 6pm I'll be doing food tastings and briefings for both kitchen and front of house, before service starts again at 6pm. Then it's back to the stove to make sure the dishes are consistent and to the right standard. As with lunch, I'll be on hand during dinner to constantly check quality in all aspects of both the food and the service.

At 11pm I'll oversee the preparation of the mise en place sheets for next day. We'll also go through the sales mix so that everyone knows how much of each item is selling and therefore they'll know what to order.

I'll leave the kitchen by 11.30pm and be back in the hotel by midnight. I'll usually spend the next hour writing up new menus so that I can hand these over to the chefs and restaurant managers next day.

I'll go to sleep at 1am. These hours are normal for me and I've always worked at this pace. I'm fortunate that my wife understands this, but it's not a chore for me because I love it.

Just a minute…

What message do you have for Tony Blair? Tell the EU to stop dabbling in our food industry.
Who would be your ideal dinner partners? My time is precious and I'd want to spend it with family and friends. Former Manoir chef Bruno Loubet and his wife, Catherine, would be among them.
What is your least favourite food? I had monkfish liver once - and never again. It was disgusting, and I felt like I was eating the effluent from the Mediterranean.

Le Petit Blanc

1A Shirburn Street, Watlington, Oxfordshire OX49 5BU
Tel: 01491 615400
Web site:

Company profile: Le Petit Blanc restaurants are located in Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford and Cheltenham. The group was founded in 1996, and there are plans to open six more restaurants inside the next six years
Owner: Raymond Blanc
Typical prices: set menu, two courses for £12 or three courses for £15; à la carte, starters from £4, mains from £10

Interview by David Tarpey

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