Owen Farr is general manager of the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell. He speaks to Katie Pathiaki about his first position in a kitchen, what he loves most about his job and plans for the future
What’s your background?
I have grown up in the UK and lived here all my life, with a Scottish mother and a Welsh father – very Celtic! After school I went to Oxford Brookes University to study International Hospitality Management on a four-year course with a built-in industry placement.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry?
A summer job between GCSEs and A-levels at a small hotel in Surrey as a pot-wash and kitchen assistant. I actually found it through The Caterer, which had reported that the hotel had been refurbished. I contacted the head chef, David Terrell, who gave me the job.
Did you find it an enjoyable experience? What did you learn?
It was tough but it was a fantastic insight. I don’t recall much interaction with the front of house side, but I enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen and learning the importance of teamwork, communication and sheer hard work.
Was it something you always wanted to do?
I had an early love of restaurants, so I never seriously wanted to do anything else. My passions growing up included languages and music, but spending my life in a restaurant really appealed to me.
Where did you go next?
I went to university to study hospitality management, which was undoubtedly the best experience of my life. My second year was spent on a work placement; I worked at Rhubarb at the Royal Albert Hall, where I was exposed to all aspects of the industry – bars, restaurants, box catering, events…
Then I joined D&D London’s trainee manager programme. I spent a year at the Old Bengal Warehouse in Liverpool Street, working at New Street Grill, Fish Market, and Old Bengal Bar. I spent 18 months as floor manager at Sartoria in Mayfair before becoming assistant restaurant manager. In 2017, I joined the Modern Pantry in my first restaurant manager role.
Have you had a mentor?
I have been extremely lucky that I’ve met a number of industry professionals who have helped me. I’m still close with David Terrell, head chef at my first job. I’ve maintained a strong relationship with my lecturers from Oxford Brookes, including Donald Sloan, Angela Maher, Peter McGunnigle, James Franklin and Annie Cripps. Marc Millon, the food and wine writer, is also a mentor and friend, as is London chef Paul Bloomfield.
What attracted you to the Modern Pantry specifically?
It appealed to me as it is a strong, independent restaurant with a great foodie ethos, and a supportive owner in Anna Hansen. She put her faith in me; that was a great confidence booster for somebody young and making their name in the industry.
What makes it different to other restaurants in the area?
Our food really is unique. No other restaurant in the area takes classical ideas and turns them on their head like we do – our menus will have something to appeal to every palate. They change almost daily, which means that if you are in for lunch on Monday and dinner on Thursday, you’ll have something different every time.
What do you love about your job?
I love the buzz that a great service gives you. Seeing a full restaurant of smiling guests, served by a team of motivated staff, delivering quality wines and food that you know is well cooked – that is why I have fallen for this industry.
Who is the best ambassador for the hospitality industry?
We are lucky in that many great people work in the industry and want to promote it to others. At the moment, Fred Sirieix is the stand-out in terms of what he does for young people and for training.
Would you recommend the industry to others?
If you are prepared to work hard, make mistakes and learn from others, and can combine that with a passion for F&B, hotels, hospitality and people, then 100% yes.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2018?
I want to make the Modern Pantry as successful as it can be – it’s our 10th anniversary in August and we have lots to celebrate. Personally, I’ve just got engaged and I’m organising the wedding. I am looking forward to being a guest for a change.
What do you hope to achieve in your career in the future?
I hope to open my own restaurant very soon, where I can combine my loves of food, wine and music.
January 2018-present Restaurant general manager, the Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
2017 Restaurant manager, the Modern Pantry, Finsbury Square
2015-2017 Floor manager and assistant restaurant manager, Sartoria, D&D London
2014-2015 Graduate management trainee, Old Bengal Warehouse, D&D London
2014-2014 Wine manager, Grange Park Opera, Hampshire
2013-2013 Bartender, Grange Park Opera
2011-2012 Work experience, Rhubarb at the Royal Albert Hall, London
2008-2009 Kitchen assistant, Pride of the Valley hotel, Surrey