Tension between front and back of house is still holding the industry back, according to restaurateur and hotelier Kit Chapman.
Addressing 250 delegates at the Caterer & Hotelkeeper Chef Conference, held at the Landmark hotel, London, last week, the proprietor of the Castle hotel in Taunton, Devon, said the lack of communication and co-operation between chefs and front of house staff was having a detrimental effect on the hospitality industry.
The problem was exacerbated by the lack of direction given by proprietors, directors and food and beverage managers to chefs.
"Our industry is the poorer for having a chronic shortage of mentors or coaches to provide that guidance and direction and, indeed, encouragement that all craft and creative talents need," he told delegates at the event, run in association with British Meat Foodservice.
The problem was aggravated by ignorance on both sides of the pass, he added. "Too often, the chef, deep in the bowels of his kitchen, works in a cocoon, in a vacuum. He is disengaged from his customers. He cannot, and often will not, connect with what the customer really wants."
Regarding managers, Chapman said the vast majority betrayed an ignorance of a different kind. "They are breathtakingly ignorant of some of the basics of good food, good wine and even simple bar service," he claimed.
A show of hands among the delegates indicated that food tastings between chefs and waiting staff - one method of improving communication - were few and far between. Only half-a-dozen chefs confirmed that they held tastings for staff.
"It shocks the hell out of me that so few people are doing tastings," said Chris Galvin, chef director of Conran Restaurants. "Tastings are essential. Chefs have got to understand what the end goal is in terms of flavours. And waiters have got to know what their chefs are cooking so they can relay the information to customers."
Heston Blumenthal, chef-proprietor of the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, said he held frequent tastings with his brigade of chefs as well as his waiting staff. "Only by holding discussions among the chefs and waiting staff can we learn. You can't expect people to learn about taste through books," he added.
By Amanda Afiya