Hotel Cateys 2015: Extra Mile Award
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Chris Penn, managing director, Ace Hotel London Shoreditch
Constantly pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo, and looking to achieve more, this winner hasn't just gone the extra mile: he's travelled considerably further than that.
Not content with simply establishing a successful hospitality career at one of the UK's most innovative establishments, Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, Chris Penn has proven himself to be remarkably driven, both in the workplace and outside of it, relishing the challenges his job brings and actively seeking new ways to contribute to the industry as a whole.
Considered one of hospitality's heavyweights, Penn has this year pushed that accolade to the limit by swimming the English Channel for benevolent industry charity Hospitality Action in September. Beginning in Dover and finishing in the French town of Wissant, this impressive feat saw Penn swim for 14 hours in the 15°C sea, barely eating or drinking to save time and energy, and covered in goose fat for warmth. Training began 10 months before, and included eating a diet designed to add "natural padding", alongside gruelling sessions in cold-water lakes, long swimming pool practices, and cold showers.
As someone who was previously filled with dread at being immersed in a large body of cold water, Penn's achievement is quite remarkable. On his JustGiving fundraising page, he wrote: "I love challenges. I love pushing my mind and body and seeing how far it can take me. I have filled my life with challenges over the past 15 years and the more I take on, the more I want to try. This seemed like the most appropriate next challenge.
"Fewer than 2,000 people in the world have ever done it, fewer people have swum the Channel than have climbed Everest and many have attempted it and failed. It sounds extreme, but I want to test myself and see if I can do it."
Penn, whose brave effort raised nearly £12,000 in donations, is believed to be the second high-profile hotelier to achieve the challenge, after Thomas Noblett, managing director of the Langdale Chase Hotel on Lake Windermere, Cumbria, completed the swim in 2013.
As a member of two Hospitality Action committees, Penn's commitment to the charity is ongoing. Speaking to The Caterer in an interview in August this year, just ahead of his swim, the 2009 Acorn winner and now Acorn judge, said: "I have always truly believed that your body can achieve what your mind believes. I have definitely found this throughout my training, as I have already achieved milestones that I would have written off as impossible just one year ago."
Penn hopes his sporting endeavours - which also include triathlons and Ironman events - will encourage his team to push themselves at their own level, such as undertaking a 5k run for the first time. "Impossible is only impossible if you think it is," he said to The Caterer, and it's clear that he applies this as much to his personal life as to his professional one.
A beacon in the trade, no stranger to challenges and wholly committed to innovation, Penn has proven himself to be the unequivocally worthy winner of the 2015 award.
There is no shortlist for this award
2014 Sylla ‘Amara' Ibrahima, Park Plaza County Hall London
2013 David Mead-Male, Royal Crescent Hotel
2012 The Langstone Hotel and South Downs College
2011 Veronica Kingham Village Hotel, Maidstone
2010 Fiona Simm, Crowne Plaza Cambridge
2009 Gary Gateley, Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury
2008 Gloucester East (Barnwood) Premier Inn
2007 Paula Middleton, Premier Inn
The Caterer editorial team