Bruce Poole is chef patron of the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce restaurant in south London. He also chairs the chef judges in the Young Chef Young Waiter competition, celebrating its 25th anniversary. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn
Caterer Tell us about Young Chef Young Waiter.
Bruce Poole It is a competition for both front and back of house that is open for chefs and waiters aged 25 and under. It is organised by the Restaurant Association in partnership with HSBC, the Savoy Educational Trust and Sodexo, and rewards the best young chef and young waiter in the hospitality industry.
CatererWhat's different about this year's competition?
BP The main difference is that, this year, we are having two rather than three regional finals. The northern final will take place at Darlington College on 9 September, and the southern heat will take place at Thames Valley University on 11 September. Instead of having three heats of eight competitors, we will have two of 12.
Caterer How important is Young Chef Young Waiter for the industry?
BP It's an important competition for a number of reasons. It helps to raise the profile of young people in the industry and enthuses them about meeting fellow chefs and waiters as well as the judges. It is difficult to get away from the south-east bias simply because there are more good restaurants in London. But, because the competition is nationwide, it helps raise the profile of establishments across the UK.
Caterer Why do chefs tend to get so much more recognition than front of house?
BP I think it's mainly to do with TV. There are so many cooking shows and TV has so much power. But competitions like this help raise the profile of restaurant managers, and chefs can help by being more outspoken about the importance of front of house. At the end of the day, our industry is all about the customer - not about the chef and not about the restaurant manager. The two have to work as a team to create the best experience for the customer.
Caterer What's your top recession-busting tip?
BP You have to be better at what you do. Counting costs is important, but you have to continuously improve the customer experience without having to rely on gimmicks. People are a lot more educated about food than they were ten years ago, but they have less money to spend, so it's all about quality and adding value.
Caterer What's happening with the Chez Bruce expansion?
BP We have obtained the site of the old Post Office next door and the plans for the bigger kitchen and disabled toilet have been drawn up. However, the refurbishment will involve a six-week closure, so we have had to postpone the project. We're hoping to go ahead next year.