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Jason Atherton: social responsibilities

18 June 2015 by
Jason Atherton: social responsibilities

This month, chef Jason Atherton launched Social Sunday, the first of what he hopes will become an annual event offering hospitality professionals the chance to give back to those less fortunate by hosting a lunch in aid of Hospitality Action. Tom Vaughan went along

It's the morning of the inaugural Social Sunday, an event Atherton has launched to raise funds for industry charity Hospitality Action (HA), for whom he is a trustee. It's a series of chef collaborations across his eight London restaurants and a chance for his team members to do something for the charity. He explains: "Three months ago I got my senior team around a table and asked, 'How do we do something impactful that will make the rest of the industry take notice and hopefully join in? How can we do something to give back to the industry?'"

What came out of that discussion was the realisation that all the group's restaurants - bar Berners Tavern - are shut on a Sunday. "So we thought, let's get our chef friends involved and do a series of collaborations," he continues. "Let's get the whole thing sponsored - the wine, everything. Hopefully all our staff will give up their time to do it and every penny we make from our paying guests can go to HA."

And Social Sunday was born. With each of Atherton's head chefs able to choose who they wanted to collaborate with, the response from the industry was overwhelming. "Eight phone calls and it was done. I had more people calling me saying they wanted to get involved."

With no time available to organise something with every chef registering their interest, and explicit in his desire that this should become an annual event, Atherton told them that there would be plenty of opportunity in the future. "Next year I want to get everyone involved. If all my high-end chef buddies can inspire their chef friends, we'll do it for one day a year and it could be massive. One lunch, for you to give back. One lunch - that's all. If we could do that, it would be awesome."

Across his group, Atherton expects to raise around £100,000 for a charity close to his heart after it gave him a step-up in his fledgling career. "HA was a trustee on the board of a thing called the PM Club - a government-funded youth hostel for hospitality workers. When I worked with Pierre [Koffmann], that's where I lived. It was £30 a week and I was earning £50 a week. But it doesn't exist today, so kids coming to London have got nothing. It's so easy to say, 'I'm going to go back and live at home and get a job in the local area'."

It's not just young professionals that the charity helps, it's also those who aren't, in Atherton's words, "the lucky ones". "This is a tough industry. For every person that makes it, there are so many who end up on the scrap heap. Say you are tired after a double shift, you step out onto the street and you are hit by a bus. Worst-case scenario, you have no family, no mates, you live alone and you've broken your back - HA are the only guys who will get straight onto helping you out. Or if it's drink or drugs, they will help you get back on track."

"We live a charmed life - we go all over the world, we are like kids in a sweet shop," he continues. "The industry gave us that, so for god's sake, we need to give something back - give back to the people who don't have that."

For Atherton, the choice of mentor Pierre Koffmann - for whom he worked at Koffmann's legendary three-star restaurant La Tante Claire in London in the early 1990s - was a no-brainer.

"One thing La Tante Claire's food stood for is that it was the most flavoursome in London. There was no comparison. As I've got older, my food has become simpler than it has ever been and all I care about is flavour - that is something Pierre taught all his chefs. His food is the best of the best."

With the menu a mix of both chefs' signature dishes, Atherton is most excited about Koffmann's pistachio soufflé. "I've eaten soufflés all over the world and Pierre's pistachio soufflé is the best there is," says Atherton.

"It's on three of my menus. We've got it on in New York and all the critics are saying that it is the best soufflé that has been served in New York City. And I say, well it's not mine, it's chef Koffmann's."

When Cary Doherty was given the choice of chefs to collaborate with, his immediate choice was Robin Gill.
"Our restaurants opened at around the same time and we started visiting each others' a fair bit. We got to know each other through that, so Robin was a natural fit," he says.

The dishes are a mix of favourites from both restaurants, although the spring vegetables with coppa, a cured pork made by Gill, is a true collaboration between the two: "I pulled it out of the cellar today and we decided to put it on the menu this morning, and we paired it with Cary's raw spring vegetables," says Gill.
For Frankie Van Loo and Laure Patry - the team behind Social Wine and Tapas - Social Sunday was more of a daunting task than perhaps for other restaurants in the group, coming two days before the site's opening date.

"When Jason first mentioned this to me, I thought, 'Oh no, these will be our first paying customers'. But then I realised it would be fine - we did something similar two days before we opened Social Eating House and it was a great success," says Van Loo.

This is the latest in Atherton's empire - a 72-cover tapas joint overseen by Patry, who has been with Atherton for 12 years. She picked some special wines for the occasion, including a Frank Massaid Cava and a ChÁ¢teau Saint-Cyrgues Costières de Nimes.

For Paul Hood, Isaac McHale was an "obvious choice" to collaborate with. "I love what he does; I think he's amazing," says Hood.

And one dish in particular of his stood out: "He did this scallop dish of black truffle purée topped with a raw scallop brushed in clementine juice with dashi jelly, hazelnuts, julienned truffles and a hazelnut vinaigrette."

Paul Walsh's choice of chef was Ollie Dabbous: "We met a couple of years back and have stayed in touch - I've been over to his a few times and he's come here a fair bit. We get on like mates. It was an easy choice."

They divided the menu 50/50, but it was Dabbous' home-cured goose snack that left a lasting impression on Walsh: "It's not easy to get British charcuterie unless it's Wiltshire ham. He serves it on a stick of liquorice. It is absolutely amazing."

Hospitality Action

Hospitality Action is a trade charity that offers a crucial lifeline to people of all ages, whether working and retired, in the hospitality industry. It receives no government funding and is dependent on fundraising events.

For chief executive Penny Moore, Social Sunday is an "amazing" idea: "It's not just the financial perspective that is so fantastic, but the awareness that it generated.
"One of the things about our work is that it is often staff like kitchen porters and people in housekeeping who are affected - people that you can't reach so easily through industry magazines and websites. This kind of thing through social media and word of mouth not only encourages others to get involved, but it reaches those who might not have been reached and lets them know what we do."

Facts and figures

In 2014, 6,922 hospitality students between the ages of 16-19 received advice on alcohol and drug misuse through HA's alcohol and drug awareness seminars.

1,790 people were assisted via the charity's grants and befriending scheme, using funds of £595,046. Of the recipients, 79% were below 60 years of age.

34% of beneficiaries needed HA's financial support after a life-changing illness, of whom 32% were suffering severe financial hardship.

Visit The Caterer's Facebook page for a full gallery of photos from Social Sunday

Social Sunday sponsors

The Social Company would like to thank a number of suppliers for their generous support, including Mash Purveyors, Flying Fish Seafoods and many more. Click here for the full list.

Social Sunday menus

Pollen Street Social, Mayfair

Chefs

Jason Atherton, chef-patron, and Pierre Koffmann, head chef, Koffmann's, London

Menu

  • Colchester crab salad, apple and coriander, black garlic, lemon purée, brown crab on toast
    Squid bolognese-style
  • Lake District lamb loin, braised neck, roasted artichoke, merguez sausage, curds and whey
    Muscat grape granite, Moscatel foam
  • Pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice-cream

Little Social, Mayfair

Chefs

Cary Doherty, head chef, and Robin Gill, chef-patron of the Dairy, Clapham, London

Menu

  • Raw spring vegetables with coppa
  • Chicken skin, oyster, swiss chard, kimchi, buttermilk
  • Roasted line-caught Cornish turbot, peas, broad beans and asparagus, black truffle
  • Rack of lamb and braised shoulder, crushed olive oil Jersey Royals, braised morels and wild garlic
  • Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice-cream

Social Wine & Tapas, Marylebone

Chefs

Frankie Van Loo, chef-patron, and Laure Patry, executive sommelier

Menu

  • Olives marinated in chilli, garlic, anchovy
  • PadrÁ³n peppers, sea salt, garlic
  • Szechuan-fried chipirones, togarashi, ink aioli, lime
    Charcuterie
  • Chargrilled carrots
  • Burnt aubergine and miso, walnut pesto
  • Heirloom tomato salad with burrata and basil, gazpacho dressing
  • Roasted sea bream, piperade
  • Cornish turbot, anchovy, fennel
  • 40-day aged bavette steak beef, chimmichurri dressing
  • Crème Catalan with orange

Social Eating House, Soho

Chefs

Paul Hood, chef-patron, and Isaac McHale, chef-patron of the Clove Club, Shoreditch, London

Menu

  • Buttermilk-fried chicken, pine salt
  • Onion bhaji, rice crisp, brandade
  • Raw Orkney scallop, hazelnut, clementine, truffle
  • Smoked leek, Iberico jamon, almond gazpacho, mint
  • Roast halibut, kombu, cep, spelt, sprouting broccoli, mushroom tea
  • 40-day dry-aged Devon beef, ramson, potato
  • Amalfi lemonade, sarawak pepper ice-cream
  • Strawberry parfait, lemon verbena, black curry
  • Bounty ice-cream, Earl Grey fudge
  • Clove Club chocolate bar
  • Wild strawberry and jasmine tart

City Social, City of London

Chefs

Paul Walsh, executive chef, and Ollie Dabbous, chef-patron of Dabbous, London

Menu

  • Home-cured goose with fenugreek, hispi cabbage with sunflower
  • Goats' cheese churros with London truffle honey
  • Chicken liver parfait with crispy chicken skin, truffle
  • Isle of Skye scallops, soy, green apple, pickled ginger, wasabi
  • Braised turbot, coastal herbs
  • Lincolnshire rabbit saddle and sausage, Pommery mustard mash, chanterelles, garlic
  • Bubblegum ice-cream

Sosharu, Clerkenwell

Chefs

Alex Craciun, head chef

Sample dishes

  • Soy tare glaze Japanese beef, wasabi and sushi rice
  • Miso, cod and ash wood
  • Cod cured in miso, baked in ash shitake and tempura avocado
  • Shaved ice matcha green tea, azuki beans
  • Strawberries, wasabi, frozen hibiscus and sweet cicely cream

Sosharu, opening in Clerkenwell in the autumn, operated as a pop-up in the private dining room at City Social.

Berners Tavern, Fitzrovia

Chefs

Phil Carmichael, executive chef, and Stephen Terry, chef-patron of the Hardwick, Abergavenny, Wales

Sample dishes

  • Braised rabbit, ham and foie gras terrine, poached leek, apple and cider, pickled mustard
  • Roast cod, peas, polenta, Pont-Neuf sauce, bois boudran
  • Rump of Romney Marsh lamb, crispy breast, asparagus, broad bean and ham hock ragout
  • Panna cotta with confit tomato and basil

Typing Room, Bethnal Green

Chefs

Executive chef Lee Westcott with Tom Aikens, chef-patron of Tom's Kitchen, London

Menu

  • Crab, lime, aubergine and gin
  • Pigeon, fermented turnip and hazelnut
  • Halibut, curry, asparagus and pine
  • Rabbit, pea, morels and lovage
  • Sheep's yogurt, apple and dill

Visit The Caterer's Facebook page for a full gallery of photos from Social Sunday

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