The co-owner of Italian restaurant Enoteca Turi in Putney tells Janie Manzoori-Stamford about the trends, styles and staff that he has seen come and go
Being brought up on a farm, I have always been interested in food and its preparation. I helped my father prepare feasts for special occasions. It was my cousin who suggested I take the hospitality route, as it was a growing industry and one that allows one to travel. Having originally come to London to learn English, I met my wife Pam, who was my English teacher, and I stayed.
The UK hospitality industry was dominated by Italians, French and Germans in the 1970s. When I returned in 1982, I realised that there were many bright English people working in the sector. Since then there has been a gradual move towards more professionalism, originally only seen in the fine-dining sector, but slowly filtering down to all levels. Also, in the 80s, French food dominated the fine-dining scene, but by the 90s, there were modern British and fusion cuisines breaking new barriers.
Every decade has a new trend.
I would love to see Gueridon service - service of food in front of the customer from a service table - make a comeback, although it will never happen. When I was at the Connaught hotel, we served and presented the food from a serving dish onto a plate; there was magic in the way food was valued as every ingredient was highlighted and given importance. But, to borrow a line from the Sicilian novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa), "if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change".
With hindsight, I would probably do every single thing differently. More research into markets, location, more training of staff… However, what is important is a clear vision and a lot of passion. Starting a business takes us on a journey, an essential part of which is the learning curve and the mistakes we make along the way, through which we become wiser.
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do the job I love. It has been a fulfilling journey, and probably I would do everything the same again. Having worked in five-star hotels in London - the Athenaeum and the Connaught - my fascination with food and wine began to grow. I found myself becoming more interested in the historical events which influence taste and trends. I slowly developed my own idea of Italian food, discovering the diversity that Italy offers in taste and flavour in both food and wine, and it seemed the logical next step to open my own place. Pam and I opened Enoteca Turi in 1990.
Being the boss, there is no-one to tell you what to do. But with that power comes responsibility, both to your customers and to your staff. You often have to make unpopular decisions, and at the end of the evening, even if there is no money in the till, you still have to pay your bills.
Pam and I are lucky in that we get on well and complement each other. However, there is this advice I would give to anyone who works with a spouse or partner: respect each other's work and skills, don't compete with each other for approval and take holidays every year, always together.
It's no good blaming the chef. One Saturday night, the restaurant was full with all bookings confirmed. The restaurant manager briefed the staff on the last details and we could see it was going to be a great evening.
After a while, I began to get a funny feeling that all was not well. The wrong food was sent to the table, people were waiting for a starter for half an hour, after which their main course arrived instead. I went into the kitchen to find the chef was swearing, shouting and giving contradictory orders to his team. Then it dawned on me that he was drunk. Somehow the service managed to come to a painful end but I knew that the rest of the team blamed me for it and they were right to. I employed him!