The general manager of Galvin at Windows and maître d’ for Channel 4’s First Dates tells Katie Pathiaki his pet first date hate and why hospitality is like champion boxing
I started in the industry when I was 16 at a catering college in the southwest of France. At the time, it was the third-best college in France, and every student was guaranteed a job when they left. A friend of mine was learning to be a chef, and I thought it sounded very exciting and I decided to become one. I changed my mind because cooking wasn’t for me – I felt so claustrophobic in the kitchen!
I did lots of placements and worked my way around France between the ages of 16 to 20. When I was 20 I moved to England and got a job at La Tante Claire in the original site on Royal Hospital Road, then I moved on to Le Gavroche, Sartoria and Brasserie Roux before meeting Chris Galvin in May 2006 and opening Galvin at Windows in the London Hilton on Park Lane.
I always wanted to work with the best and jumped at the chance to work at the three-Michelin-starred La Tante Claire. At the time they helped with accommodation, national insurance, bank accounts and so on. It seemed like a good idea and I don’t regret it for a second.
I love speaking English. I had a good command of English while I was living in France and I enjoy being a foreigner!
You can take the boy out of France, but you can’t take France out of the boy. I’ve been in England for 25 years. You could argue that I’m more British than French. However, you can’t erase the first 20 years I had growing up in France. Many of my ideas come from my time there, but you have to evolve and embrace change.
The best thing about being a general manager is having the freedom to do what I want and to decide how things are done. The best thing about being maître d’ in the First Dates restaurant is making people happy. We run a restaurant like any other, the only difference is that good service and great food is not its raison d’être – it’s to match people and hope they hit it off.
My pet hate when watching a date is when people meet and do not know how to greet each other. There is some kind of cagey, cold welcome, where they don’t smile or look each other in the eyes. Sometimes it’s a case of shyness, but other times it’s ignorance of how to make a good first impression.
I like to be creative and go where my heart takes me. I like to listen to music, I enjoy certain sounds and beats, and I like to write songs. When I create music I am in a world of my own and it’s exciting.
I launched National Waiters’ Day in 2012 because I wanted to make a change. The industry is not helping itself. We need to reach out to the general public and have people think it would be a great career for their child, nephew or grandchild. There are almost 300 catering colleges in the UK and there must be thousands of kids who come out of them every year, but where are they?
In February this year, I launched the Right Course, which aims to train prisoners and provide them with qualifications so they can work in the industry when they leave. The restaurant is run for prisoners by prisoners at no cost to taxpayers. I think everyone deserves a chance.
The industry has changed so much compared with when I started. There are more restaurants and more competition, which is pushing up quality. There’s so much diversity in London now, with amazing chefs, front of house and concepts.
If you want to succeed, you can’t count hours. If you want to be a world boxing champion, then you have to be prepared to get a broken nose. If you don’t want to have a broken nose, then forget it – it’s not going to happen.
No matter what, you’ve got to keep the faith and trust in yourself. Do good, be good. Work hard and surround yourself with good people. Keep on learning and keep on laughing. You’ve got to follow your dream. You’ve got to enjoy it too; money and the rest will follow.
I want to see the industry taking full responsibility and changing for the better. We also need to change the public’s view of the industry. It’s very hard to find staff in general, but British staff are even sparser. We have 70 front of house staff
and only two are British. It’s difficult sometimes because the public want quality; however, the British don’t want to do the job. They don’t know how exciting it is – it’s definitely better than siting in an office all day!