The next chapter 6 December 2019 Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the boutique caterer and her people plans for the future
In this week's issue... The next chapter Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the boutique caterer and her people plans for the future
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Desperately

01 January 2000
Desperately

Wanted: demi chefs de parties and commis. Mash's head chef, Craig Gray, needs some time off. The bar and restaurant is already suffering from the same chef shortage as many other London restaurants, three months after opening.

Gray has been working flat out for the past few weeks, arriving at 7am and not leaving until midnight. He insists he loves it, however. While many of his 22-strong brigade can't understand why he would want to spend so much time at the restaurant, he maintains that he gets such a buzz out of it that he has to keep going.

"I don't drink or smoke or take drugs," he says. "I don't even drink coffee, so this is my adrenalin."

Good for morale

He has also enlisted the help of Bruno Loubet, development chef for the Oliver Peyton Group of Restaurants, Mash's corporate parent, and Stephane Franchini, head chef of Isola, which is scheduled to open in January and is the latest venture for the four-strong group. "It's also good for morale when Bruno is here because the chefs look up to him," says Gray.

As well as placing advertisements in London's Evening Standard, the company was to hold a chefs' open day for the first time last week, hosted by the head chefs of all its restaurants. As many as 25 chefs were expected to turn up.

Loubet and Gray can't understand why Mash would have problems attracting good chefs. Although initially the restaurant's daily production of as many as 700 covers might seem daunting to newcomers, the Oliver Peyton Group offers good benefits to attract people to work for it and to encourage them to stay.

"At the beginning we were very busy and not organised," says Loubet, "but now we're doing everything we can to attract people."

Every chef undergoes assessment once each quarter, and if they have reached their targets they are awarded something from the company - such as kitchen shoes, extra days of holiday or work placements in France. The brigade is marked on everything from knife and cooking skills to general appearance. If there are any areas where a member of staff isn't up to par, then extra training is provided to eradicate the weakness. There is also the opportunity to move within the group to one of the other operations, such as Coast or the Atlantic Bar & Grill.

Gray wants people with enthusiasm who really love what they're doing and who are looking for long-term employment, so that the company doesn't have staff problems in the future. "Peoplecan be scared off," he says. "They might think I have to produce 500 main courses a day, but it's not like that. We're all part of a team."

Quality produce

As well as having to contend with staff shortages, Gray has also had to plan and introduce a new menu in recent weeks. He says: "What we're trying to concentrate on is the best-quality produce we can buy at a reasonable price. The food is simple but not so simple it's boring - what you read on the menu is what you're going to get. There's a lot of emphasis on fresh, organic produce."

Previously, the menu was divided into seven starters, three pizzas and pasta dishes, five salads, four wood-baked dishes and two dishes from the wood-fired grill. Now, in addition to the pizzas, pastas and salads, the menu includes four mains as well as a choice of four fish cooked on the wood-fired grill in four different ways. For £12.50, customers can now pick salmon, tuna, grey mullet or fish of the day, cooked, for example, with confit fennel, tapenade sauce with chargrilled courgette or tomato, chilli and saffron-stewed butterbeans.

"The menu is health-conscious, with light sauces and jus, and very fish-orientated," Gray adds. "The fish cooked four ways is something Oliver started at Mash in Manchester."

He also includes one special starter and one special main dish daily, and if they prove popular they could be included on the main menu when it next changes. However, Gray doesn't want to make more changes too quickly because some customers come back for the same dish.

Because of the volume of the business, Gray gets most of his suppliers to deliver every day. He knows that if he orders 20kg of fresh tuna, it will sell out the same day. All suppliers, three for meat and vegetables and two for fish, have been used by either Gray or Loubet in the past and they know they are reliable.

The restaurant company also has a dedicated food purchasing officer, Tony Welsh, who checks weekly prices and gets the best deals.

If the restaurant phones in the morning, it can usually have a second or third delivery made in the afternoon. The only exception to this is the pork for the wood-roasted suckling pig, which comes twice a week from a company called Pugh's Piglets in Lancashire, where the animals are hand-reared on an acorn diet.

Next visit to Mash: 13 August

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