Jonathan Cartwright is group chef de cuisine of the 13-strong luxury hotel group, Grace Hotels, and executive chef, White Barn Grace, Kennebunk, USA. He tells Janet Harmer how his job has evolved into a truely global role
How difficult is it to combine your two roles? It's not so difficult as we have wonderful, energetic and committed teams at all the properties. One challenge is that the hotels in the north east of America all have the same season and as much as I would like to, I cannot be in two places at once! Argentina, where we recently opened Grace Cafayate, has the opposite season, so I can go there in the first quarter of the year when New England is quieter.
What is the key focus of each role?
Training the team is the key focus at all the hotels. We believe in empowering the staff to create and execute at a very high level. My role is to be in the middle of the team giving advice and encouragement when I am at the properties.
How many F&B outlets are you responsible for in total?
What inspired you to work abroad in the first place? I was very fortunate to work at the Savoy Hotel, where I trained and travelled with Anton Edelmann. I found myself curious to see how hard it would be to work overseas in a non-English speaking environment after working alongside many international employees at the Savoy, so I went to Switzerland and Germany first before moving to New England.
How easy was it to find work overseas? I have been lucky in my life and there has always been someone who knew someone who was willing to help me out. The position at the White Barn came through working at other Relais & Chateaux properties in the USA who knew I wanted to stay in New England and recommended me to the then owner.
How did your career in England prepare you for working abroad? England is full of many different cultures and I think this certainly helps prepare anyone for working overseas. My initial culinary training and my time at the Savoy helped nurture this and exposed me to many different nationalities, helping me anticipate the challenges of relocating to other countries.
How would you describe your style of food? Local ingredients prepared, cooked and served with European flair. We have a wonderful selection of ingredients from land and sea here in Maine and I believe in using that as much as possible. One example is butter poached smoked lobster on parsnip purée with paprika butter sauce. We release apple wood smoke at the table as this dish is presented which provides a wonderful aroma and flavour.
What do you like about working in the USA? I think we have a great product to work with, access to some wonderful seasonal ingredients and fantastic customers who give us genuine feedback. This always helps us to improve and encourages us to try new things. I also like New England as it is very similar to my home climate in the north of England!
What do you dislike about working in USA? I don't really have any true dislikes. I miss my family in England and although they do come to visit often it is always hard the first few days after they leave.
What have been the highs and lows of your overseas career? When I first went to Switzerland and Germany, I was a little homesick for the UK and my friends. It's very hard settling into work and learning a language that you have to communicate in every day. I think the high is definitely living here in Maine and making my home here. Kennebunk Beach is a wonderful part of the world and a great place to raise children.
What are the financial benefits of working abroad? I think we have a very good standard of living here in the USA. Certainly the cost of living varies from country to country and I always say you can't judge a country unless you have lived in it and paid tax!
After so long in the USA, would you consider being based anywhere else? Well, now that I am group chef de cuisine for Grace Hotels I truly work on a global stage. The group has properties on five continents and I visit them all. But I always enjoy returning to Maine which is my current home.
Jonathan Cartwright CV
2011-present Group chef de cuisine, Grace Hotels
1994-present Executive Chef, White Barn Grace, Kennebunk, USA
1993-1994 - Executive Chef, Horned Dorset Primavera, Puerto Rico & Blantyre, Lenox, Massachusetts, USA
1990-1993 Chef at Grand Hotel Regina, Switzerland; Alte Post Mullheim, Germany; Hotel Bareiss, Germany; Hotel Schweizerhof, Bern, Switzerland
1987-1990 - Chef, Savoy hotel, London