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Terry Laybourne – My Life in Hospitality

12 November 2009 by
Terry Laybourne – My Life in Hospitality

Terry Laybourne is the chef-patron, of Jesmond Dene House hotel.

Terry Laybourne got into hospitality by chance. "I really wanted to be an engineer," he confesses. "But it was 1971 and Britain was in the depths of depression. It was terrible timing."

It was an unexpected meeting with a chef friend, who showed Laybourne a book of fat carvings and ice sculptures, that prompted the change in career path. "I decided right then that I wanted to be a food engineer."

Following an apprenticeship with the Swallow Hotel Group, Laybourne left the North-east and headed to the Channel Islands. There he met his mentor, Klaus Mollin, who set him off on a European career path that took in Germany and Switzerland. "It was very rigid and disciplined in the five-star Swiss hotels. It was a good learning curve."

In 1979, Laybourne returned home to Newcastle. "It wasn't the work that made me leave," he says. "It was the social life. A spa town does not have the demographic to excite a young man!"

After a brief stint helping a friend, he worked as a chef at Fisherman's Wharf for a winter. When the proprietors opened a sister restaurant, Fisherman's Lodge, Laybourne secured his first role as head chef. "I wasn't ready for it, but I was daft enough to have a go," he says.

However, Laybourne became restless. After eight years he still didn't feel he'd achieved what he'd hoped. "I didn't want to go away to learn anymore, so I decided to roll my sleeves up and do it my own way."

As a result, in 1988, Laybourne opened his first restaurant, 21 Queen Street. Three years later, he got a call from Caterer‘s former northern editor, Bob Gledhill, congratulating him on his Michelin Star.

"I was numb really. I always felt those guys with stars were superstars and I felt I hadn't really earned mine yet. But looking back I can see it was a huge achievement. We were scallywags and vagabonds, but as a team we were very strong and we produced some very good food."

Now Laybourne's business empire has grown to include Café 21, Café 21 at Fenwick, Caffé Vivo, Bistro 21 in Durham and Jesmond Dene House hotel, and this year he is celebrating 21 years in business.

The secret of Laybourne's success? "I surrounded myself with good people. That was my main advantage. And I know my audience. Working in my home town, I feel I've been doing market research my whole life."

HIGHS… The obvious thing would be to say winning the Michelin Star, but it wasn't. I didn't feel worthy. However, it pushed me to sharpen my focus. I felt I still needed to earn the right to wear the Michelin badge. It took me a long time to feel comfortable - to get over feeling like an interloper.

I genuinely feel my career high hasn't arrived yet. I can't imagine what it will be, but I'm still striving for it.

LOWS…When I was 17, I had a major motorcycle accident. A car pulled in front of me and I ended up in hospital for three months with a broken leg and right arm, and a ruptured spleen. I was out of action for a further three months and it was right in the middle of my apprenticeship.

I was really conscious I would have to play catch-up, so I started to read everything I could about cookery theory. I became very knowledgeable on the subject. I was never a big reader, so without the accident I would never have done that.

Age 53
Family Married
Favourite holiday Ile de Ré, France
Drives BMW X5
Motto I do what I do and I try to do it well


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