Mick Dunn, long-serving kitchen porter at the Rubens at the Palace hotel in London, was last year's winner of the annual KP of the Year competition organised by The Caterer in partnership with Winterhalter UK. Lisa Jenkins met him to discover his winning qualities and hear his advice for this year's competition entrants
Malcolm Hendry, the general manager of Red Carnation's Rubens at the Palace hotel, started with the company 16 years ago, but kitchen porter Mick Dunn's employment precedes him by nearly 14 years.
Dunn was first shortlisted for the KP of the Year award in 2015, which Hendry says was a celebration in itself, but Red Carnation was determined to see Dunn win the title in 2016 and he re-submitted his application, listing his latest achievements. Hendry believes Dunn triumphed because his entry was truthful, heartfelt and sincere.
Dunn's application included details of his dedication to the maintenance of the main kitchen dishwasher and liaison with the supplier company for annual services and ad hoc fixes. He helps the hotel's executive housekeeper and her team by assisting them with the refuse area and general maintenance back of house; and he also finds the time to train new starters in the kitchen on how to use the equipment, such as the dishwashers, which is seen as a big help to the chefs.
Dunn is a multi-site KP - he reports to the head chef of Rubens but has also been supporting the pantry team at Hotel 41, a discreet hideaway next door with the feel of a private members' club, while the Rubens kitchen undergoes a refurbishment.
There are between 10 to 12 KPs across the three properties (Rubens, Hotel 41 and B Bar) with Dunn the head KP. "The KPs' area is Dunn's kingdom," says Hendry.
"The kitchens are always spotless and the stores are always tidy." When asked to describe Dunn's character, Hendry replies: "He works hard, has a tremendous work ethic and he never shirks."
Dunn was described by Hendry as a conduit between the back of house teams and senior management and as an essential member of the operational team.
Dunn has, however, seen many changes in the potwash. He clearly remembers starting at the Rubens on Sunday 27 November 1988 - when the kitchens ran without the aid of a dishwasher. Dunn says the shifts back then were back- breaking but that he always kept to his goal of maintaining a clean working environment. He now sees his role as "supporting everyone to help the guests", and says he is more appreciated for it now. "The KP of the Year competition and the hotel, by entering me, have been fantastic in raising the awareness of the role of the KP," he says. "Hopefully, I have inspired others to achieve what I have."
If Dunn had a chance to speak to the hotel customers during his busy day, he would tell them: "It's not just the people you see who make the hotel work - it's also the team behind the scenes." His strengths, says Dunn, are his determination, his sense of humour and the fact that he's pleasant to everyone. "If you have a bad day, you have to wipe it up and start again," he says.
On the day of the awards presentation, while the hotel staff gathered to congratulate him, Dunn was told that he was to attend a health and safety meeting, only to walk into the ceremony. "It was a bit of a shock to walk into a room with so many people - chefs, housekeepers and office staff," he says. "I went bright red for the photo shoot! But I was elated - and I still feel so very proud now."
Dunn's daily advice
•Always start your day with an open mind and a can-do attitude
•Enjoy your job
•Get on with your colleagues
•Do a good job for the team
•Show appreciation and take appreciation
•Work as part of the team
•Show respect to others and earn respect by being respectful.
How to enter the 2017 competition
To enter this year's KP of the Year competition, visit www.thecaterer.com/ kpoftheyear2017 before the deadline for entries of the 3 August 2017. All applicants will be judged by a panel of industry experts (no presentation necessary), with the winner announced in September.