Fred Sirieix is a force of nature, and arguably the only modern restaurant manager to become a household name, albeit due to his role as maître d’ on Channel 4’s First Dates.
I think it is no exaggeration to say that, in doing so, he has raised the status of front of house hospitality and inspired a new generation that might otherwise be lost to our great industry.
It’s impossible to read Secret Service without hearing that familiar French accent speaking every word in your head; each maxim laden with emphasis. There are plenty of them, too. A recurring theme is his description of a service as a “battle”, and the need for planning in advance. “The customer is king” also receives deserved repetition, as does one of his favourite terms, the “magic touch”, by which he means those little extra gestures that make a customer feel special.
His reception team are “gazelles on Red Bull” and he compares waiters and waitresses to trapeze artists, with the manager performing the role of the net to catch them if they fall.
Sirieix also reveals much of what has shaped him, from his father’s meticulous approach to work at a French hospital to the camaraderie of his catering college at Souillac in France. His mentors are duly credited, including Silvano Giraldin (Le Gavroche), George Perendes (Sartoria), Pierre Koffmann (La Tante Claire), Wendy Hendricks (Bluebird) and, of course, Chris Galvin, whose 28th-floor restaurant atop the London Hilton on Park Lane has been his theatre of operations since 2006.
Anyone expecting good anecdotes will not be disappointed, and I particularly liked the story of a belligerent Russian gentleman who Sirieix managed to charm, turning him from impossible customer into enthusiastic ambassador for Galvin at Windows. Secret Service does indeed lift the lid on the restaurant world, but not in a negative way. I just wish I’d been able to read it before starting my own career some 40 years ago; we could have made a lot more people very happy.
By Peter Hancock, chief executive, Pride of Britain Hotels
If you like this, you may enjoy these
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer
The Restaurant Manager’s Handbook by Douglas Brown
Restaurant Success by the Numbers by Roger Fields
Secret Service by Fred Sirieix (Quadrille, £16.99)