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Brits Abroad – Michael Hartnell

11 March 2011 by
Brits Abroad – Michael Hartnell

Michael Hartnell is executive head chef at Le Caprice in New York, the first US franchise of the London restaurant which he launched in 2009. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the pros and cons of working in the Big Apple

What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? I have always wanted to work overseas, ever since I became a chef. I remember being told that no matter what language you speak, if you can cook, you can cook anywhere, and this made me always think of broader horizons than just staying in England.

How has working abroad enhanced your career? It has given me a unique experience that I wouldn't have had back in the UK. I know that I have a few more tools now that I wouldn't have garnered if I hadn't opened a restaurant abroad - communication, patience, research skills and networking.

What do you like about working in New York? The pace in New York is 100 miles an hour and there's always something to do. There are endless new restaurants and I get out as much as I can with my fiancée - when we're not working - to try them. And, it really is true that the city never sleeps.

How does hospitality in New York differ from that in the UK? New Yorkers have a reputation for being feisty and unforgiving, but I have found them to be friendly and welcoming. Hospitality is a big deal for the Americans. The waiters work very hard for their tips and go to great lengths to make people feel special. They seem to take real pride in what they do.

Hospitality is a respected profession, which sometimes - wrongly, in my opinion - isn't the case back home.

Diners have different expectations too; they tend to dine earlier. My last position was head chef at Daphne's in London, where we served dinner until very late every night of the week. At Le Caprice New York I can be home and in bed by 11.30pm - not every night I hasten to add!

What could UK hospitality learn from New York, with regards to people management? There's a really positive attitude in my kitchen. We have a melting pot of nationalities - Americans, Mexicans, Australians, Brits - it's a great blend of blood and backgrounds and everyone is willing to learn.

From a management perspective, you have to pay more attention to people's sensitivities, which actually makes for a very harmonious working environment. I've definitely learned the skill of diplomacy since I've been here and I would bring a calming influence with me if I were to come back to the UK.

What trends could we adopt in the UK from New York? I've recently come across the "Farm to Chef" scheme, which has been a revelation. In a nutshell, local producers in one area pool their resources into a central warehouse and details of the produce available are sent to chefs in the city. The quality is excellent - I can get dairy, meat, fish, fruit and veg, and service very reliable. It's been a great source of inspiration, too, for seasonal specials.

What advice would you give to anyone in the hospitality industry wishing to work abroad? Take the plunge if you're given the opportunity, but give it a chance. When you get there, give yourself a certain amount of time to settle in and try to learn as much as you can before you decide it's not for you. I spent a lot of time meeting and chatting to people, asking advice about areas, finding out more about the places that I knew I would like.

Where else in the world would you like to work and why? Japan is where I would go if I were to move on from New York. For me, being in Japan would be the closest thing to being on another planet - different language, writing, culture, traditions, food. It's on the other side of the world, too, and couldn't be further from home, but I would love the challenge and am fascinated and inspired by the heritage of, and skill involved, in the Japanese culinary scene.

CV: michael hartnell

2009- present Executive head chef, Le Caprice, New York

â- 2006-09 Head chef, Daphne's, London

â- 2005-06 Chef de partie, Locanda Locatelli, London

â- 2003-05 Chef de partie, Daphne's, London

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