The chefs on the Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 list of the most influential people in hospitality, in association with Caterer.com, are successful in their own right, but also responsible for developing and sustaining the UK's international culinary reputation. Emily Manson reports
As you might expect with the Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 list of the most powerful people in hospitality, in association with Caterer.com, the 29 chefs included this year read like a who's who of the nation's culinary great and good.
Donald Sloan, head of school at Oxford Brookes School of Hospitality Management, says that those listed are not only successful in their own right but also responsible for developing and sustaining the UK's international culinary reputation.
"Through the efforts of those chefs on Caterer and Hotelkeeper's list, the UK continues to build its reputation as one of the world's leading dining destinations. Not only do they achieve excellence on an individual basis, but as an inspiration to others they are helping to drive up standards across the sector," he says.
Bloomberg's restaurant critic Richard Vines says the 2012 list, which was published last month, covers all those at the top of their game. "Most of the chefs I'd expect to be there have made the list. I'm very glad to see the jump in the ratings for chefs like Jason Atherton and the Galvin brothers, who find time to cook each day, even as they expand their business as entrepreneurs," he says.
"They've had to be more and more ingenious to entice customers in," she says. "The chefs are working hard on their PR and building their reputation and they're listening to their public, whereas before there were more chefs cooking for chefs."
Leading lights Raised profiles and public personas are one thing, but these chefs are also leading lights in the field of culinary development and evolution: whether that be in the form of Heston Blumenthal's creations, Tom Kerridge's first-ever two-Michelin-starred pub, Pierre Koffmann's return to the stove or Mark Hix and his ability to capture the zeitgeist with offers such as Tramshed - tapping into the simple single/double offer menus that have become popular during this recession.
In particular, support of local produce - a growing trend and one driven by many of the chefs included in the list such as Jamie Oliver, Raymond Blanc, Andrew Fairlie, Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth - was commended by Sloan. "I admire their very public support for seasonal and sustainable British ingredients," he says. "It has a positive impact on local economies and stimulates a welcome sense of pride in our most talented producers."
Innovation is another shared strength of the entries this year, adds Sunley, and it's happening at all levels of the marketplace. "While some chefs are pushing the boundaries with new products or an emphasis on local, seasonal, provenance, and foraging, others have simplified their offer and are serving up comfort food - think Mark Hix, Hawksmoor or Goodman genre - while the Michelin guys like Brett Graham and Jason Atherton at Pollen St Social are offering fantastic value set lunches," she says.
Changing with the times Sloan points out that chefs have been and will continue to be forced into new patterns of buying behaviour due to the continuation of rising food prices. This, he suggests, will remain a key influence on the changing nature of food offers - the use of less expensive cuts of meat or lesser-known fish, for example - and reinforce the importance of dealing with issues such as food waste.
Sunley also highlights the continual blurring of the chef/patron dividing line, with increasing numbers of chefs now owning or becoming partners in their operations. This has meant that many have been forced to acclimatise to working in the real business world, rather than in the rather more sheltered kitchen environment. Sunley suggests this has helped them to develop not only business skills but also recognise that there are better ways to manage and treat staff which, in turn, benefits the operation.
"I'd like to think many chefs have become more emotionally intelligent and treat their teams better," she explains. "Michael Caines banned swearing and bullying in his kitchens long ago and it seems that others have followed suit in a bid to attract and retain the best talent."
The challenges ahead
By nurturing staff, local sourcing, limited menus, reducing food waste and increasing their profiles, chefs have managed to stay at the top of their game and in business, says Vines, who warns that 2012 might be a tough year for chefs and restaurateurs alike.
"Lunch business seems to have collapsed in some areas and margins will need to be cut to the bone to fill tables during the day," he adds.
Sloane agrees, predicting that more chefs will need to "adopt a values-based approach that reflects their consideration of current economic and environmental issues."
More than this, Vines voices concern that chefs' future growth could be limited by streamlined menus. "The current popularity of steak restaurants may be a problem for chefs seeking financial backing for more adventurous cuisine," he says.
Sloan adds that in years to come, he would like to see more diverse entries on the power list. "We are experiencing something of a revolution in our pub sector," he says. "Although there continue to be many closures, there are also more and more that are delivering outstanding quality and professionalism. In addition, one of the most striking and distinctive characteristics of the UK food scene is how it reflects our cultural diversity and I would welcome these being reflected in future lists as they develop."
A View From the Top: Jamie Oliver
What do you think of the chefs in the Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 list this year?
It's a good selection, and it's brilliant to see Thomasina [Miers] in there for Wahaca because she does a fantastic job. Angela Hartnett as well, although I would have put her much higher if it were my own list of powerful people.
It's also great to see Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent on the list [of top restaurateurs] - I've enjoyed what they've done with Leon over the years. I'm looking forward to hearing the results of their report into school food - if they've done a good job, and if the Government listens to them, then they should be higher up the list in a year's time.
What's driving chefs' creativity and the restaurant sector at the moment? I think there's a lot of competition out there at the moment because times are tough, particularly on the high street and outside London - it's customer warfare, for sure. I'm sticking with my resolve of great value, higher welfare British produce, but more importantly, I'm also trying to instil these values in all my staff so that they can show our customers that great value isn't about discounting. For me, the inspiration continues to come from artisanal British suppliers, the growing camaraderie of other chefs, technology and my travels.
What were the positives for you of the past year? The 10th anniversary of my Fifteen London restaurant was a huge thing for me - to have a restaurant open for 10 years, let alone it being a charity and an inspiration for young people that really need a break, especially in this economic climate, is really quite something. We've done it all ourselves and we're now seeing first and second year graduates becoming head chefs and restaurant owners all over the world. It's an incredible achievement.
What's in store now? My intention is to continue to focus on service, food standards, and the sourcing of amazing food. And certainly, continue to do a better job than our direct competition in whichever type of restaurant it is - that's my main concern.
But, I don't think working through this recession is about being safe and cutting back on all the obvious things. I'm adamant that it's about fighting through it, not being comfortable and letting your teams feel the efforts that you go to, to do what you do.
Passion, most importantly, and the space to make some mistakes is vital too. I intend to open three or so Jamie's Italians in amazing cities in the UK this year - we've also got something very exciting lined up for the spring.
Going forward, I really want to make a point of supporting brilliant young chefs and management so they can open their own restaurants, and do stuff that's really fun and life-changing for the people in question. I did an experiment this year, mentoring and funding a young talent (off the radar) and it gave me a lot of satisfaction. I think it's good for the industry.
Is there anything you would like to see happen over the next year? There are a great many things, but the two main ones would be, as I've already mentioned, the report into school food from Henry and John, which I'm looking forward to seeing. If they've got it right, then I hope the secretary of state for education, who commissioned the report, will have no option but to listen and implement some positive changes in school food.
I'd also like to hear a louder clamour of voices from within the industry when it comes to food education. For me, what we feed kids in schools is one thing, but what companies feed parents in the workplace is really important too.
We know that obesity is getting worse in this country, and we know that the NHS is being slowly crippled by the financial pressures of helping people with diet-related diseases. Television ads telling people that they're eating bad food aren't going to help - we need to proactively educate all kids and many adults on how to look after themselves properly when it comes to what they're eating every day.
Everyone on this list could and should play an important role in this huge task. It's not about being worthy or preachy - it's just that the level of ignorance in the public about food, where it comes from, how it affects your body, is scary and never fails to shock me.
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 Chefs
1 Jamie Oliver
2 Heston Blumenthal
3 Raymond Blanc
4 Michel Roux Jnr
5 Gordon Ramsay
6 Michel and Albert Roux
7 Chris and Jeff Galvin
8 Phil Howard
9 Jason Atherton
10 Brett Graham
11 Rainer Becker
12 Marcus Wareing
13 Mark Hix
14 Michael Caines
15 Anthony Demetre (and business partner Will Smith)
16 Nigel Haworth (and business partner Craig Bancroft)
17 Simon Rogan
18 Claude Bosi
19 Rick Stein
20 Angela Hartnett
21 Sat Bains
22 Tom Kerridge
23 Pierre Koffmann
24 Richard Corrigan
25 Martin Wishart
26 Tom Kitchin
27 Alan Murchison
28 Andrew Fairlie
29 Tom Aikens
How we compile the list
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 brings you â¨the 100 most influential people whose achievements are having the biggest impact upon the hospitality industry currently. It tells you where they've been, where they are now and where they are going.
This year, for the first time, we opened up the selection process to nominations from the industry at large and were overwhelmed with the response.
This final list of operators includes a diverse collection of personalities, from the bosses of the biggest corporate giants to others who are pushing the boundaries of style, comfort or cuisine in their chosen field.
The Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 covers all sectors of the industry - hoteliers, restaurateurs, contract caterers, pub operators and chefs. Nominees in each of these five categories were judged by panel of industry experts and Caterer and Hotelkeeper journalists who specialise in those sectors. To qualify, candidates had to be based in the UK, and their power and influence should be primarily in the UK market. Shortlisted candidates were awarded marks for each of five criteria, which were then averaged out to give an overall ranking.
First consideration was the scale and scope of the operation headed by the nominees. But size isn't everything, and they were next judged on the power and influence they exert in the industry and the respect they command among their peers. We asked whether they were shapers of policy, leaders in their field, or inspiring and nurturing the next generation.
The judges then examined whether the candidates had a proven record of financial success and whether this was reflected in the eyes of their peers and the outside world.
The candidates' reputation for innovation was next, as the judges examined to what degree they were setting standards others wanted to copy and whether their ideas would remain in fashion.
Longevity was the fifth and final hurdle for the candidates as the panellists considered whether they - and their creations - would stand the test of time.