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Chris Barber: My life in hospitality

26 February 2009 by
Chris Barber: My life in hospitality

Chris Barber is food and beverage consultant at Leith's Food Solutions.

Having spent more than a decade as personal chef to Prince Charles, and now running his own consultancy, Chris Barber advises people to always think laterally, not literally. The answer to a problem is not always the obvious solution at the end of your nose, it might take some lateral thinking.

He's also learnt never to give up, even though he admits that it's especially easy to get put off, disheartened or demoralised in the hospitality industry, as it's so bad at patting people on the back for a job well done.

Highs… To have my own restaurant where people actually paid money to eat my product was a very high point. To see the first people coming in was a real "wow" moment, and I felt an incredible sense of achievement. It's a very special feeling, although it probably becomes more special retrospectively, as at the time you're just thinking, "God, another service!"

Personally, I was also very proud to be successful as a writer as well as as a chef: to see my name in print and think that I actually did that myself, knowing I wrote every word.

Cooking my first dinner for Prince Charles was another high point. Although I can't remember what I cooked, I remember the feeling - it was a massive responsibility having gone from a year in the Royal Household with lots of staff to a very small team, and knowing that if it screws up, it's me, but also if he likes it, it's me. I enjoy that kind of responsibility and find that high-risk, high-reward situations are thrilling.

Lows… Twenty-five years ago I was working in a big London kitchen and I felt totally alienated by being in the minority nationality-wise. It was not a good time to be English in a kitchen. There were very few of us, and I got all the shit jobs. It's like being an English footballer in the Premiership. It was very tough to get ahead and we weren't really given a serious crack at the whip. French boys would come over knowing very little, and I'd be grafting my arse off and they'd get promoted above me. I hated it at the time.

Selling my own business was quite a low, but also quite a high, as I wanted to move on and do other things. It gave me a great opportunity to do other things without the constraints of running a business every day.

It's also given me a great appreciation of how to run a business, and I don't think I could be a consultant now without knowledge of the pressures of having to pay 40 staff and not having quite enough funds.

Chris Barber: personal file

Family Married with two children, aged nine and seven

Age 43

Favourite holiday Skiing in France or Switzerland

Drives Volkswagen Golf

Motto The harder you work, the luckier you get

Career highlights

1983-85 Commis chef, Hotel Intercontinental, London

1985-86 Chef to the Queen and the Royal Household, Buckingham Palace

1986-97 Personal chef to the Prince (and Princess) of Wales

November 1998 to January 2004 Barber Catering (including the Goose at Britwell Salome and the White Hart hotel in Nettlebed)

January 2005to date Founder, Leiths Food Solutions

Recession-busting tips

  • Check every single invoice you receive and make sure you pay for exactly what you get.
  • Look through your bank accounts, and reconcile everything. You only need your credit card machine not to be polled one night and that can be the difference between success and failure - and sometimes it does happen.
  • Take responsibility, be ever vigilant, and check every penny.

By Emily Manson

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