The Lusso managing director tells Carol Millett how William Baxter's eye for ambition, Richard Branson's management style and his father's drive for excellence helped shape his career
My passion for food started from around five years old when I began baking with my grandmother. That was when I absolutely fell in love with food and particularly with pastry-making. I loved the art and science of making pastry and I can still spend hours baking at the weekend.
I had to fight for my career in hospitality. My dad took the view that anyone can cook and therefore this was not a real career. I had to work hard to prove to him that this was my career of choice. Happily, he is now immensely proud of me and I think I've managed to surprise him.
Back then I worked with some fierce, strong chefs who helped me toughen up. I was a commis waiter in hotels in Suffolk before my apprenticeship. Once I told one of these chefs I was a waiter, which did not go down well. He pointed out that since I didn't serve on tables, I was nothing more than a food porter. He said: "You are not a waiter yet, son." I was quite shy then so experiencing those characters really made me stronger.
As an apprentice pastry chef I learned to watch, look and listen, absorbing every bit of knowledge I could. I learned so much by being around some great people, but had to work really hard.
My approach to work has been inspired by my father, who is a perfectionist. He was so good at his own trade. He worked very, very hard and always focused on pleasing his customers. His aim was always to deliver excellence and that always inspired me.
When it comes to contract catering, in my early career William Baxter was the person I looked up to. Although I loved pastry-making I felt I had so much more to give in terms of my management skills. William gave me my first opportunity when he made me a chef-manager at Baxter & Platts. I was with him for over 10 years and he gave me so many opportunities. He celebrated those who push themselves to do more and learn more. That approach has remained with me throughout my career. You can train for the skill but what makes people stand out is their enthusiasm and drive.
My leadership style is very inclusive and collaborative. Our clients want excellence and the way I deliver that is through communication and partnership; Lusso's success is down to working as a team and I am lucky enough to have a very dynamic and talented team that is a joy to work with.
The biggest mistake I ever made in my career was to move out of hospitality to take a sales job. My head was turned by a salary far greater than I was earning at the time. It was the worst year of my life; it was soul-destroying. I quickly realised the rest of the population was not as passionate about food as I was and didn't want to talk about it for most of the day. I immediately returned to the fold.
I was inspired by Richard Branson's management style. When at Baxter & Platts, Virgin Atlantic was one of my clients and I was lucky enough to see Richard up close. He was quite a shy man but always very approachable. He would always find time to listen to people. I also loved that he was a maverick who broke the airline industry mould.
Robyn Jones [CH&Co co-founder] taught me so much about how to really look after clients. The way she built up her business from nothing to where it is today is mind-blowing. She had a very simple approach to what makes a good business. It was about great food, looking after the customer every single day and making sure you are always the very best that you can possibly be.
It's vital we nurture our industry's next generation of high-fliers. One young person who really inspires me is Ben Garnett-Sinclair. He's so passionate and engaged. He joined Lusso three years ago and was awarded Craft Guild of Chefs' Apprentice of the Year in 2015. As an apprentice he was always so keen to learn more. Once he went out at 5am to forage for nettles, and then brought them into work to ask the chef how to make nettle velouté. I see a lot of myself in him when I started in this industry.