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The Caterer interview: Chris Basten, Craft Guild of Chefs national chairman

24 March 2016 by
The Caterer interview: Chris Basten, Craft Guild of Chefs national chairman

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Craft Guild of Chefs, Lisa Jenkins spoke to its national chairman about the development of the Guild during his tenure and the future stability and strength of the influential association

Can you give The Caterer a quick review of the Guild's events in its 50th year?

It's been hard work trying to celebrate 50 years in its entirety, but we have attempted to organise a number of events, keepsakes and celebrations that reflect our history and ethos.

We held a royal canapé reception at St James's Palace, created a golden Craft Guild of Chefs' badge (that we have used on all our branding and chef's jackets throughout 2015), we sponsored The Caterer's Chef Award at the Cateys and held a fun evening at the Underglobe, a more unusual venue beneath Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London.

Did everything go to plan?

Mostly! It is quite a challenge though - you can't please everyone, but I believe we have done the anniversary justice. We have told a story and taken our members, partners and supporters on a journey with us.

Was it tough?

I always knew taking over as chairman for the 50th anniversary would be a test, but I've also had to deal with other challenges, like making changes to our magazine, Stockpot, and the long-term staff departures and replacements. I think I've had a tough chairmanship - it's made me a different person. I'm much more outgoing and a bit more confident. I'm a bit better at public speaking and I guess it's raised my profile.

It has also made me much more aware of other sectors of the industry. I've particularly enjoyed finding out more about care homes. The work that the chefs do to create the textured food for people with dysphagia and other eating problems is fascinating and it really makes a difference to people's lives.

What will your legacy as chair be?

The Craft Guild of Chefs is a collection of chefs trying to promote our industry and there are lots of us in the Guild performing various tasks. We have the National Chef of the Year, which is managed by David Mulcahy, culinary director at Sodexo, and the Graduate Awards, managed by Steve Munkley, executive head chef at the Royal Garden Hotel. But we also manage the competitions at Hotelympia and Wessex Salon Culinaire.

I've tried to streamline the Guild - Stockpot is sharper and more focused, and we've brought the management of our members' database and business partners in-house.

I would like to think I've stabilised the Guild. We also needed to be more modern in terms of marketing and PR. There will always be critics, and I have been quite forthright, but I have made decisions that I stand by. I am very grateful to have had Andrew Green, the Guild's new director of operations by my side. He is a fantastic administrator and has a forensic attention to detail.

Basten with the Countess of Wessex at the Craft Guild of Chefs' 50th anniversary celebration

Can you tell us a bit more about the Countess of Wessex, the royal patron of the Guild?

She adds a lot of gravitas and is genuinely interested in what we do and our future plans. She is very passionate about the industry and loves to debate subjects like fairtrade, left- overs and waste, and growing your own produce. She believes in the Soil Association and she asks intelligent questions. She has strong opinions and always does her homework. I will miss her when I step down. I have visited her at her office at home a few times and she is always very welcoming. Her son James loves to climb on my motor bike!

What's the future for the Guild?

We have reinforced the Guild and have strong foundations now. We need to focus on our existing business partners, who are predominantly suppliers that support the Guild financially.

Lee Maycock, consultant chef and director of LBM Food Solutions, will be the next chair and he will have his own plans for developing the Guild further. I know he will get the committee together and continue to build on the last 50 years. We are in a much stronger place.

What do you like about the hospitality industry?

I enjoy the diversity; the fact that you can make a difference and that if you work hard and have passion, you can aim high and achieve your dreams. You can make a good career from hospitality, but you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. There are always lots of opportunities if you speak up.

What would you change about the industry?

I wish we were more respected and not thought of as a service industry, but as a profession. Everyone loves talking about food and we seem to have a common interest with most people, but sometimes chefs and hospitality staff seem to be invisible in spite of the fact that we are creating their special moments.

CV

Basten originally trained as a bricklayer at the age of 16. His mother was a cook, "a real maverick", says Basten, and heavily involved with women's rights. She worked in catering at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

In 1980, Basten got his first job as a chef at Oxford's La Sorbonne restaurant, where Raymond Blanc was a waiter before he left to open Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Basten went on to work with John Burton-Race at his restaurant, Bleu Blanc Rouge, a sister restaurant to La Sorbonne.

He has since worked at the Royal Court Hotel in London's Sloane Square, Gill Manor in Sussex and at 90 Park Lane, the Ritz and the Dorchester. He most recently completed three and a half years at Westminster Kingsway College as a culinary lecturer.

Basten left Westminster Kingsway College to take up the new role of executive development chef at caterer the Brookwood Partnership.

The culinary team

There are currently 12 chefs in the Craft Guild's culinary team and members are invited to join from attendance at competitions. The role of the culinary team is to inspire more people to become chefs by way of demonstrations and event dinners.

In its 50th year, the Craft Guild of Chefs presented a record number of honours and awards to its members and supporters at a ceremony held at the Royal Garden Hotel, London. The 2015 roll-call included more than 60 recipients.

The Craft Guild of Chefs Culinary World Cup team (Fergus Martin, Chris Basten, Stephan Wylie, Lea Eastman Thompson, Matthew Edmonds, Steve Jarman, Theo Dalton Maag, Samuel Jones and Nathan Gayle) picked up the Team of the Year Award for their performance in Luxembourg at the end of 2014, which resulted in a haul of medals. It was one of two awards for team manager Fergus Martin, who also received the Chairman's Award for extraordinary service.

Basten has been asked to step back into a culinary team role for 2016 and he will help co-ordinate the current team for all future competitions.

The Craft Guild of Chefs

Established in 1965, originally as the Guild of the Cookery and Food Association, the Craft Guild of Chefs (CGC) has developed into a leading chefs' association in London and the UK and has many members worldwide.

CGC members can be found in many areas of the foodservice and hospitality sectors and work in a wide range of positions from students and trainees to top management.

The main objective of the Guild is to represent the best interests of chefs; to improve standards of professional cooking through greater awareness, education and training; and to develop the careers and prospects of its members.

The Guild also promotes and participates in all levels of craft skills competitions in the UK and internationally and works with the industry, education and the media to win greater recognition for chefs.

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