Service with a smile 21 February 2020 Tom Kemble of the Pass at South Lodge cooks up a pumpkin masterclass and shares why it’s important for chefs to meet their customers
In this week's issue...Service with a smile Tom Kemble of the Pass at South Lodge cooks up a pumpkin masterclass and shares why it’s important for chefs to meet their customers
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The Caterer

Christoph Brooke – My Life in Hospitality

05 March 2010 by
Christoph Brooke – My Life in Hospitality

Christophe Brooke is the managing director of Hillbrooke Hotels.

Christoph Brooke developed his passion for hospitality at university, putting on parties for fellow students.

"I really liked the organisational side of things," he recalls. "And obviously the food and beverage element appealed."

However, before going to university Brooke began his career as an intern at the Savoy working in the meat department, followed by a spell at Claridges as a breakfast, then lunch, waiter.

"I enjoyed it but couldn't stick it out because of the money," he says. "It was at a time when you were paid £30 a week, rising £10 a week until you completed the course. I just couldn't make ends meet."

But the experience left a lasting impression on Brooke, particularly his spell at the Savoy where he met the man he describes as "an inspiration, my hotel hero".

Giles Shepherd, who in the 1980s was managing director of the Savoy before moving to the Ritz in 1994, inspired Brooke to stay in the business.

"After university my first job was at a restaurant called Foxtrot Oscar in Hospital Road, Chelsea which is now owned by Gordon Ramsay," he says.

From a standing start and at the tender age of 22 Brooke managed the then bistro-style restaurant; an undertaking he describes as a "massive challenge".

After three years he went to work for Joel Cadbury at Vingt Quatre, a 24-hour restaurant on London's Fulham Road.

"It was open through the night and probably the hardest graft I've ever experienced," he adds. "I'd describe it as tough but enjoyable."

It wasn't long before Brooke opened his own restaurant - Christoph - which was named one of Fay Maschler's best newcomers in 1987. He ended up selling the business to Roy Ackerman's Restaurant Partnership, for whom he then opened a series of Simply Nico restaurants.

Ever the entrepreneur, Brooke left to set up Crush, a chain of juice bars, with a friend, before selling his share and starting a hotel and restaurant consultancy.

"One of my first projects was the Victoria Hotel in Holcombe," he says. "The product laid the foundations for what I do now."

The design was what Brooke calls "shabby chic boutique", with furnishings from Rajasthan in India echoing the colonial stately home era.

Brooke's vision and creativity at Holcombe laid the foundations for what would become the blueprint for Hillbrooke Hotels.

HIGHS… In 2005 Brooke approached the Longleat Estate in Wiltshire, famous for its Safari Park and the eccentric Lord Bath, knowing that its lease on the Bath Arms hotel was coming to an end.

"We were competing against 22 other applicants, but Longleat went to see what we'd done at Holcombe and we got the lease," he says.

Brooke again sourced all his furnishings from Rajasthan, and took additional inspiration from Longleat House itself, including a Kama Sutra room in a nod to Longleat House's own risqué room.

The Bath Arms became the first in a group of Hillbrooke Hotels, which now includes four properties ranging from 13 to 25 bedrooms, all of which have continued the "shabby chic" theme.

LOWS… In a whirlwind of a career, lows have been few and far between for Brooke. However, he does concede that particularly early on he may not have got the work/life balance completely right.

"I was absolutely dedicated to the businesses I was running and may not have paid enough attention to my family," he explains.

"But that's a lesson. These days I have four children to consider and I like to think that both the business and my family balance are right."

Family Married with four girls
Age 44
Favourite holiday Rajasthan
Drives Mini Cooper Clubman
Motto Never leave any stone unturned

RECESSION-BUSTING TIP
It's too easy to take shortcuts. Preparation and dedication to the cause will pay off in the long run.

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