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Chantelle Nicholson steps into the spotlight

04 February 2011

If the March opening of the Gilbert Scott, his "British brasserie" at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel represents an exciting move for Marcus Wareing as he goes from chef to fully-fledged restaurant operator, then it will be just as momentous for his protégée, Chantelle Nicholson, who leaves the kitchen at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley to become the Gilbert Scott's general manager.

NicholsonÁ¢Â€Â™s not been in the game long but sheÁ¢Â€Â™s no rookie: she went from the Savoy to PÁƒÂ©trus then on to the two Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley where she has inhabited the unusual role of senior sous chef-cum-operations manager for the last two years. SheÁ¢Â€Â™s also credited as the co-author on WareingÁ¢Â€Â™s book Nutmeg and Custard. The Gilbert Scott, however, sees her joining the major league.

The new restaurant is one of those once-in-a-career opportunities for everyone involved. Projects this big, this challenging, just donÁ¢Â€Â™t come along every day.

ItÁ¢Â€Â™s opening in the original entrance hall and coffee room of the magnificent Grade I-listed Victorian gothic revival masterpiece that was once the Midland Grand hotel. It will be open seven days a week, serving lunch and dinner in its 120-seat restaurant with the bar open all day from 6.30am for breakfast.

The name comes from the buildingÁ¢Â€Â™s architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, whose flamboyant interiors the projectÁ¢Â€Â™s designer, David Collins Studio, is charged with preserving and enhancing in a glorious new look featuring marble, gold leaf and hand-painted ceilings. Á¢Â€ÂœThe jaw drops when you see it,Á¢Â€Â is how Nicholson puts it.

The hotel has direct access from the concourse of St Pancras International so Wareing, Nicholson and co can expect a steady stream of travellers Á¢Â€Â" picky Parisians among them Á¢Â€Â" intrigued by such obscure heritage dishes as Á¢Â€Âœtweed kettleÁ¢Â€Â (sea trout with lemon, nutmeg and herb crust) and Dorset jugged steak (braised featherblade with port).

Nicholson may have swapped chefÁ¢Â€Â™s whites for a suit, but sheÁ¢Â€Â™s created the initial menu for the Gilbert Scott and has been hitting the Mrs Beeton hard for inspiration. Á¢Â€ÂœWe wanted to create something in keeping with the building, that respects its history,Á¢Â€Â she explains. Á¢Â€ÂœItÁ¢Â€Â™s a large menu with a lot of comfort food Á¢Â€Â" food you really want to eat.Á¢Â€Â

Even now head chef Oliver Wilson has joined the team (from Caprice Holdings Á¢Â€Â" most recently ScottÁ¢Â€Â™s), Nicholson will be very involved with menu development and her decade of kitchen experience, predominantly in pastry, wonÁ¢Â€Â™t go to waste. Á¢Â€ÂœThe kitchen is downstairs but the pastry bar is upstairs in the restaurant. As Oli canÁ¢Â€Â™t see whatÁ¢Â€Â™s going on upstairs, IÁ¢Â€Â™ll have to be his eyes.Á¢Â€Â

Marcus Wareing, meanwhile, wonÁ¢Â€Â™t be straying far from Á¢Â€Âœhis babyÁ¢Â€Â, the Berkeley, so is assuming a restaurateur role here, says Nicholson. He has empowered his Á¢Â€Âœkey peopleÁ¢Â€Â to make the restaurant as good as it can be.

This sounds astonishingly relaxed for the famously perfectionist Wareing. Indeed, talking to Nicholson gives a fascinating insight into the post-Ramsay world of Marcus Wareing Restaurants. Á¢Â€ÂœIÁ¢Â€Â™ve seen a huge change in him in the past four years Á¢Â€Â" predominantly in the last two since heÁ¢Â€Â™s had the independence to be able to create what heÁ¢Â€Â™s wanted to create.

Á¢Â€ÂœHeÁ¢Â€Â™s not directive; heÁ¢Â€Â™s not a dictator; heÁ¢Â€Â™s very much a person that seeks the opinions of those around him,Á¢Â€Â she observes. Her unique kitchen-slash-back-of-house job is emblematic of that. Á¢Â€ÂœItÁ¢Â€Â™s difficult to juggle both and it perhaps wouldnÁ¢Â€Â™t work everywhere but itÁ¢Â€Â™s whatÁ¢Â€Â™s evolved here. ItÁ¢Â€Â™s been a process thatÁ¢Â€Â™s allowed us to find our best way.Á¢Â€Â

Nicholson played a key role in managing the transition from Gordon Ramsay Holdings to becoming independent, taking on a Á¢Â€Âœmore operational, HR roleÁ¢Â€Â in the process. Á¢Â€ÂœWe had a head office before that kind of governed a lot of what we did and also did a lot of work that we now have to do ourselves.Á¢Â€Â

Does Wareing now give his team more independence because he values it so much himself? Á¢Â€ÂœYes, very much so.

Á¢Â€ÂœHis approach is quite different Á¢Â€Â" itÁ¢Â€Â™s not the Á¢Â€Â˜old schoolÁ¢Â€Â™ mentality. He believes that if youÁ¢Â€Â™re organised and you have common sense, then cookingÁ¢Â€Â™s the easy bit really. I think thatÁ¢Â€Â™s perhaps what he saw in me. You can teach the skills of cookery, but itÁ¢Â€Â™s very difficult to teach a mindset.Á¢Â€Â

It was Wareing and his wife, Jane, who nominated Nicholson for the Acorn Awards two years ago, an honour of which Nicholson is very proud. Á¢Â€ÂœThe awards are such an asset to the industry because theyÁ¢Â€Â™re so diverse and they recognise up-and-coming people. Look at any list of successful people in the industry and there will be a lot of Acorn Award winners.Á¢Â€Â

NicholsonÁ¢Â€Â™s departure from the Berkeley has left a vacancy or two to be filled and since competent multi-taskers such as she are thin on the ground, the group is taking on an HR person while ex-PÁƒÂ©trus head chef Darren Velvick returns to the fold after four years to become Á¢Â€Âœgroup kitchen managerÁ¢Â€Â, overseeing both the Berkeley and the Gilbert Scott. Recruitment for the Gilbert Scott, for which Nicholson will be hiring a total of 100 staff, has been Á¢Â€Âœvery positiveÁ¢Â€Â. Á¢Â€ÂœThereÁ¢Â€Â™s been a lot of interest.Á¢Â€Â

She very much hopes that the culture which has allowed her to shine so at the Berkeley will be instilled across the group and, in future, the industry as a whole.

Á¢Â€ÂœThe thing IÁ¢Â€Â™m most looking forward to is thinking outside the square about how you create a family culture at work, so people enjoy coming to work and are proud of where they work. ItÁ¢Â€Â™s about not putting people into a box they donÁ¢Â€Â™t necessarily fit into and seeing what they have to offer, as Marcus did for me. ItÁ¢Â€Â™s a huge shift from how restaurants were 10, 15 years ago. In restaurants itÁ¢Â€Â™s always so busy, so instant, you do forget about the long-term strategic approach to staff and development. You just donÁ¢Â€Â™t have time for it but you have to make time for it.Á¢Â€Â

Does this flexibility mean we may yet see Nicholson back in her chef whites at the Gilbert Scott? Á¢Â€ÂœIf they do,Á¢Â€Â she laughs. Á¢Â€ÂœSomethingÁ¢Â€Â™s gone horribly wrong!Á¢Â€Â

Á¢Â- The 245-bedroom Marriott St Pancras Renaissance hotel London opens on 5Á‚ May 2011, exactly 138 years ago to the day since the Sir George Gilbert Scott-designed Midland Grand opened. The Gilbert Scott has its soft launch in mid-March.

the gilbert scott: the facts

General manager Chantelle Nicholson
Head chef Oliver Wilson
Designer David Collins Studio
Capacity Restaurant, 120; bar, 52; private dining room, 12; the kitchen table, 10
Menu Lancashire hot pot for two, Harrogate loaf (terrine of veal and Denhay bacon with pickles), Dorset jugged steak, Manchester tart, Bakewell pudding with Cornish soured cream, Cambridge burnt cream with currant compote, tweed kettle, apple amber
Price Starters from Á‚£7; mains from Á‚£15; puddings from Á‚£7
Address The Gilbert Scott, Euston Road, St Pancras London NW1 2AR
Websitewww.thegilbertscott.co.uk

the acorn awards

Like many of hospitalityÁ¢Â€Â™s high achievers before her Chantelle Nicholson is a former Acorn winner, having been recognised when she was sous chef and operations manager at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley.

She is one of 720 people recognised in the quarter of a century since the awards began celebrating the most talented and promising individuals in the industry. So the winners of the 2011 awards, the 25th ceremony since the Acorns were originally conceived in 1986, will be in very distinguished company.

Designed to acknowledge flair and reward good work, each year the Acorns recognise 30 people under 30 who are nominated by their peers and colleagues for having made an impression in their field.

Tracey Rogers, managing director of Unilever Foodsolutions, says: Á¢Â€ÂœFor us, the Acorn Awards mean more than applauding the industryÁ¢Â€Â™s outstanding talent. By rewarding true ability, creativity and dedication, we can help to boost young careers and keep them loyal to the sector.Á¢Â€Â

This year, those who succeed will be invited to take part in an Acorn weekend on 22-23Á‚ May at the newly-opened Coworth Park, a luxury hotel in Berkshire that is part of the Dorchester Collection. Coworth Park boasts two former winners in its ranks Á¢Â€Â" general manager ZoÁƒÂ« Jenkins and John Campbell, who runs his eponymous restaurant within the 70-bedroom property.

Entrants are sought from all sections of the industry Á¢Â€Â" from pubs and restaurants to hotels, bars, food service and contract catering. So if you work with someone outstanding who deserves recognition, make your nomination online today. The closing date is 11Á‚ February.

www.caterersearch.com/acorns

Manchester tart slice, by Chantelle NicholsonÁ‚ >>

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