Nigel Smith – My Life in Hospitality

19 March 2010 by
Nigel Smith – My Life in Hospitality

Nigel Smith is the executive chef at National Museums Liverpool.
Despite completing a two-year chef-management course, Nigel Smith didn't become truly enamoured with hospitality until he started his first job as commis chef under Chris Rickaby at the Old Black Horse pub-restaurant in Market Bosworth.

"It was small but I still got movement in the kitchen. Chris taught me my understanding about food, which was key to my future," Smith says.

However, when Rickaby sold the pub, Smith chose to develop his career in the capital. He spent the next four years working in hotels - the Metropole and then the Milestone - before moving into contract catering.

Smith took the role of chef de partie and then sous chef at Sutcliffe Catering's Cable & Wireless contract - however, he describes it as more like a "restaurant with rooms". Working under Mark McCann, Smith says it was a very important part of his career.

"Mark taught me the finer details of food and enabled me to go to the next level. We had only one service a day so I had the opportunity to really hone my skills." In addition, Smith was given ample chance to travel and take part in competition work.

A trip to Russia to take part in an annual British food festival led Smith to a new role as senior sous chef at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in Moscow. He learnt to speak Russian - "I didn't expect to do that!" - and as a result was asked to help open the World Trade Centre, a five-star hotel in Yekaterinburg, 880 miles east of Moscow.

However, his Russian career ceased later that year when the ruble crashed, and upon the advice of the British consulate, Smith left for home. He returned to the UK and to contract catering at Chester Boyd, where he spent five years before joining his wife in their own short-lived restaurant, Teriss@108, in Essex.

Smith joined Tate Catering as head chef at Liverpool's Bluecoat Art Centre, housed in the city's oldest building. He spent 12 months in London, laying the groundwork for the Bluecoat's successful opening in March 2008, but just eight weeks later a fire broke out in a first floor kitchen.

"It was absolutely devastating," he says. "I'd just moved up with my family three months earlier. My son was only one year old and I didn't know what I was going to do for a job."

Fortunately Smith was not unemployed for long. He was soon snapped up by the National Museums Liverpool for the position of executive chef.

HIGHS… While at Chester Boyd as executive head chef, Smith was instrumental in planning, producing and delivering the millennium Cateys. "It was the only time the event was not held at the Grosvenor House. The budget was huge and the drama on the night made it amazing."

The drama was a 20-minute total power cut between the starter and the main course. However, he says that the food that night, under the circumstances, was "absolutely amazing."

In January, the National Museums Liverpool went into the Michelin guide as an accredited restaurant, which he says was unexpected but a tremendous achievement for his team.

LOWS… Being forced to give up Teriss@108 was regrettable. "We had to sell because we were working longer and longer hours and earning less and less," Smith says. "We came to a point where, although we still had the passion, our economic circumstance dictated our decision."

Smith's premature departure from Russia was a disappointment, yet he still remembers it as an adventure. "The consulate drove us back to Moscow, which took two days because there weren't any proper roads. We didn't have much money, because there was no cash left in the bank. Whatever loose change we had went on fuel."

Family Married, one son aged 3.
Age 41
Favourite holiday Cyprus
Drives BMW 5 series
Motto Enjoy what you're given; you never know when you might get it again

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