One year on from being named the winner of the first Gold Service Scholarship, how would you sum up the past 12 months?
It has been an incredible experience. I've been to so many places and met so many people, and as a result have accomplished and learnt so much. I've also struck up a fabulous friendship with my fellow finalists - we regularly get together and support one another.
Your win last year was against the odds as you were the only one among six finalists not to work in a fine-dining restaurant - at the time you were a restaurant supervisor at Deseo, an all-day, informal eaterie at Gleneagles. What made you stand out as the winner?
There is no doubt that my technical skills were not as good as the other finalists, and I'm more than happy to admit that. I think it was the fact that my personality came across. The reason
I got into service and hospitality in the first place was because of the enjoyment of engaging with guests - something I regard as the most important thing about service.
You have moved on from Gleneagles - where are you now?
After three years working in what is quite an isolated location, I wanted to move back to be closer to my home town of Bournemouth.
I arrived just before Christmas and am now working as general manager of the Ferndown Forest Golf Club. I felt as though I had accomplished everything I could at Gleneagles and was ready to move on. I'm hugely grateful to the support from Gleneagles during the scholarship, as they gave me time off, as and when I needed it, although I did undertake many of the stages during my days off and holidays.
The golf club is somewhere I know well, having started my career as a waitress here. It is obviously very different from Gleneagles, but I have joined at a very exciting time as a new owner has just taken over the club house and there are many plans for improving and growing the business.
I share the role of general manager with my colleague, Dave Young. We head a team of nine staff and together look after the bar, grill restaurant and function room for up to 120 covers.
What was the highlight of the past year?
It was definitely working at Buckingham Palace during the state visit of the president of South Korea. I arrived at the Palace on the Friday and spent all weekend working with the footmen team, preparing for the state banquet on the Monday. I helped to polish the silver gilt and lay up a horseshoe-shaped table for 170 guests in the ballroom. It was a very impressive operation, with everything placed on the table to an exact measurement. I then helped serve on the evening of the banquet, attended by the Queen and Prince Philip, as well as David Cameron, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg. The team I worked with were lovely.
Which hotel or restaurant that you visited created the greatest impression?
The level of service, combined with the friendliness of the staff, made the Waterside Inn in Bray outstanding. The restaurant is well known for its food, but there is just as much emphasis put on the service. Most impressive was the way the staff customised the service for every guest.
What was the best advice you were given during your scholarship year?
The mentors, who included Sergio Rebecchi, John Davey and Sara Jayne Stanes, taught me the importance of being myself and being proud of what I do. It is important to remember that we are in the people business and therefore personality counts for a lot.
What is the essence of good service?
I think it is all about being an individual and stamping your own mark on the delivery of the service.
With so many restaurants adopting a more relaxed style of operating, do you believe there is still a place for formal service?
I think there will always be a place for the classic, full service, found at the Waterside Inn and Le Gavroche, but I think there is a move away from the stuffy service that used to exist. People still want high levels of service, but they want it to be more friendly. However, it is important to strike the right balance between being friendly and over-friendly.
How do you see your career progressing?
I'm only 23, but I think it has gone well so far. I feel very comfortable with the service side of hospitality, but now I want to learn more about the financial, accounting and managing side of running a business. My aim is to run my own restaurant or maybe a nice coffee shop serving afternoon teas - or even a chain of them!
What advice would you give James for the coming year?
I would advise him to get as much sleep as he can now because it is going to be a very busy year. Most importantly, I would tell him to be himself and cherish every moment because the time really flew by for me. James is a really good guy and thoroughly deserves his success. As the first winner of the scholarship, I didn't have anyone else to speak to who had been in the same position, which would have helped at times, so I will let him know that I will be there for him whenever he wants to chat.
JAMES FLEMING - 2014 GOLD SERVICE SCHOLARSHIP WINNER
The day after James Fleming was announced at London's Claridge's hotel as the Gold Service scholar for 2014, the 24-year-old chef de rang at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons was still overwhelmed by his success. "I can't quite believe it - I really didn't think I had won," he said. Despite his modesty, Fleming exuded an air of confidence throughout the final, held at the Connaught hotel, in which he and his six fellow finalists conducted a full lunch service. They were scrutinised for their skills in mise en place, decanting, reception of guests, meal service, wine and beverage service and customer engagement by judges including Edward Griffiths, deputy master of the household at Buckingham Palace, and Alastair Storey, chairman of lead sponsor BaxterStorey.
Fleming's reward will be a year of tailor-made mentoring, to include the opportunity to work side by side with industry luminaries such as Diego Masciaga at the Waterside Inn and Silvano Giraldin at Le Gavroche. He will undertake a work placement during a state visit to Buckingham Palace, join a hotel in Europe for a one-week stage with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, and tour French vineyards and a Scottish whisky distillery.
Fleming joined Le Manoir three years ago after graduating from the University of West England, where he had studied quantity surveying. "I decided I didn't want to sit in front of a computer all day and was better suited to interacting with people," he said. "The experiences that lie ahead are phenomenal, as is the expertise I will draw upon from the mentors - which will help me reach my goal of becoming general manager."
Fleming said one of his key aims will be to help change people's perceptions about the service industry. "I would like to show that this is an industry where young people can really succeed and go far."