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The Caterer

Guest Editor Kevin Bigg

17 June 2004
Guest Editor Kevin Bigg

Kevin Bigg - only some of our readers will know who you are. What do you do?
I work for Aramark at BP's offices in Sunbury on Thames, where we cater for 3,000 people daily over two restaurants, and provide hospitality across the whole site.

!"The old image of canteen food has gone. We have amazing chefs in the sector, producing some first-class dishes - not just for private dining but in main staff restaurants"Where do you come from? I was born in Portsmouth and moved to Glasgow after my father retired as a submariner from the Royal Navy. How long have you been involved in the industry? Eighteen years. So what's your pedigree? I've worked in a number of restaurants and hotels. I started my career as a commis chef for Steve Hyatt at Coylumbridge hotel, Aviemore, and then I worked under Iain Donald at the Stanneylands hotel in Manchester, where he put us through our paces and the meaning of hard work really hit home. Then after a working holiday in Portugal I ended back in Glasgow when I saw an advert for a job in Hampshire at Gordleton Mill with Jean-Christophe Novelli. I offered to work unpaid for a week, as the distance was too far for a one-hour interview, and ended up never returning to Glasgow. This was probably the best kitchen I ever had the opportunity to work in, as Jean-Christophe was one of the most enthusiastic, patient and excellent teachers I've worked for. While I was there, Jean-Christophe sent me for a week's work experience at Harvey's in Wandsworth, south-west London, to work in Marco Pierre White's kitchen - the word "amazing" is the only way to sum that kitchen up. What made you want to become a chef, and who or what was your inspiration? I left school at 15 with no qualifications. My mother was in the catering trade and she asked her old lecturer, Steven Kilday at Cumbernauld College, if it would be possible for me to attend the college. I went for the interview and was told that there would be no special treatment just because my mother attended there. The word "discipline" springs to mind, but I'm very thankful to him for starting me off in the catering trade. Tell us about the time you were a stowaway on a fishing trawler for a few days when you were a kid in Scotland I feel nauseous just thinking about it. My brother Sean and I jumped on a fishing trawler's net as the boat was pulling away from the dock, thinking a day out at sea would be fun. So we went below andhid in a bunk and were eventually found after a couple of hours. As the weather was so bad they couldn't send out the sea taxi, so it was decided, after calling my sister in Ullapool, that we would stay on board. The "day out" turned out to be six days in the North Sea, with 40ft waves, the smell of diesel and greasy food. It was probably one of my worst ideas. What did your mum say when you returned back to shore? We were late for school by four days, and a backhander was our greeting home. I thought she would have been pleased to see her two hard-working sons. You now work in the food service sector. Why don't you work in restaurants and hotels? Surely the kudos is greater? When we were kids my father was in the Navy. He was away three months at a time and I know he missed all six of us. So after working 80-90 hours a week in restaurants and hotels I decided it wasn't the lifestyle I wanted, and I didn't want my kids being brought up never seeing their dad. Also, the food service sector has changed so much in the last 10 years and there's great potential to elevate yourself in the trade. The old image of canteen food has gone. We have some amazing chefs in the sector, producing some first-class dishes - and not just for private dining but in main staff restaurants around the UK. It's easy preparing dishes with no limit on budget, but I believe a true talent that's often overlooked is the ability to prepare outstanding food to a very tight budget. Who's your hero in the industry, who commands your utmost respect? I have two. One has got to be Gordon Ramsay, who I've worked with a couple of times through Aramark, and Jean-Christophe Novelli, who I used to work for. You're a chef, so what sort of food do you like cooking, and where do you get your inspiration from? I like, probably more than anything, rustic Mediterranean-style food - Jean-Christophe was a big influence here. I like reading cookbooks, watching TV food shows and eating out in different restaurants to get inspiration. What do you cook at home for your wife and kids, or does she do it? Unfortunately, my wife does most of it, but I help. My children - Michelle, aged seven, and Callum, six - love Mexican food, so if they had their way it would be fajitas every day. Michelle thinks it's a competition to eat exactly the same amount of tortillas as me. Chefs love trying out other chefs' food. If you could take an important client anywhere, where would you choose? It would have to be Gordon Ramsay's, Royal Hospital Road, because this has to be the ultimate dining experience. I was there in April for my wedding anniversary - it's a great way to score brownie points with the missus.
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