Winning ways 31 January 2020 Steve Groves, head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, on his National Chef of the Year triumph and tips on preparing for chef competitions
In this week's issue... Winning ways Steve Groves, head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, on his National Chef of the Year triumph and tips on preparing for chef competitions
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01 January 2000

THE rarified atmosphere, fine cuisine, and top-notch clientele of Mosimann's private members club in London's Belgravia are not the stuff of the average summer job.

But this year, the Glasgow and West of Scotland branch of the HCIMA offered one management student in the region the chance to experience eight weeks at this select establishment.

Students from 10 colleges in the area competed for the opportunity to experience the best of the hospitality industry. The eventual winner was 22-year-old Nigel Parkin, a second-year student at the Scottish Hotel School, at Strathclyde University.

When Caterer first spoke to Parkin six weeks into his stint at Mosimann's earlier this year, he was struggling to come down to earth. "I work every day the club is open - they keep telling me to take a day off, but I don't want to," he enthused.

The four-month selection period was a nail-biting time for Parkin. Each of 10 colleges in the West of Scotland nominated two students for the award. The 20 put forward were then interviewed by an HCIMA panel before being shortlisted to three.

Each of the three finalists was asked to have dinner at One Devonshire Gardens hotel in Glasgow, the Egon Ronay 1994 Hotel of the Year. They had to identify the 10 points they felt contributed most to the hotel winning the award.

But at this point disaster struck for Parkin, who was taken into hospital with acute appendicitis on the day he was due to visit the hotel. However, even that was not enough to stop him. He had an operation on Tuesday, was out of hospital on Thursday, and at One Devonshire Gardens for lunch on Sunday.

He faxed his ideas through to the HCIMA on the Tuesday, just in time to meet the extended deadline that he had managed to negotiate. His determination paid off when in May, at the HCIMA spring ball, he was announced as the winner.

Parkin admits to having been nervous before he started at Mosimann's but says he was overwhelmed by the willingness of other staff to show him the ropes. "They could have just stood me in a corner and told me to chop peppers, but they have taught me to do more complex things, like stuffing quail and making salmon parcels," he explains.

step by step

Parkin's first two weeks were spent in the kitchen, with a few days each on pastry, the larder, fish, sauces and vegetable preparation. In the second week he made simple dishes, such as Louisiana-style shrimp with couscous and Caesar salad.

Working in the kitchen was useful experience for Parkin. Although he doesn't want to become a chef, he knows if he becomes duty manager in a restaurant, he may have to step in and help if the kitchen is short-staffed.

He found that working to perfection at speed was the most difficult thing to master in Mosimann's kitchen, but he was constantly impressed by the the level of service and presentation. "It doesn't matter if somebody comes in at 11 o'clock at night, the food is still perfect when it goes out," he says. "And you never have to say to a guest ‘Sorry, we can't do that'."

Weeks three and four were spent in the restaurant. Again Parkin was pleased about how much he was allowed to do. "I had expected to work as a waiter, but in fact I was treated more like a trainee manager."

What Parkin may lack in experience, he more than makes up for in confidence and he handles guests with ease. It is no surprise, then, that his two weeks in the restaurant and bar were the parts he enjoyed most.

"I enjoyed learning all the procedures that make guests feel special," he says. "When a guest arrives, the receptionist will phone us in the bar to say ‘Mr Smith is on his way up', so we can greet him properly and offer him his regular drink."

He occasionally found guests teasing him to try to catch him out, knowing that he was new. "One man asked me how the canapés were made - luckily I'd just done my week in the kitchen so I could tell him exactly."

Parkin spent weeks five and six in the private rooms, each of which is individually designed and sponsored by one of four companies: Harvey Nicholls, Wedgwood, Gucchi and Alfa Romeo.

"Learning the etiquette and how to serve people in the correct order was the most important thing here," explains Parkin. "It's about learning to serve with the minimum of disruption, especially if it is a corporate function and the guests are doing a deal."

Parkin's final two weeks were spent in Mosimann's outside catering unit, where, among other things, he learnt the importance of planning mise-en-place up to a week in advance.

Parkin was very impressed by the working environment. "In other places I've worked I've been used to a staff canteen or a vending machine - but at Mosimann's all food was freshly cooked for the staff and they always sit down to lunch and dinner in the library before service."

Also impressive was the level of tipping, even though a service charge is included. All tips are pooled and split between staff.

Having been used to working part time in the conference and banqueting department of a busy hotel, Parkin found the atmosphere of the club relatively easy- going. What made a noticable difference for him was that staff and customers tended to know each other. And staff were friendlier than he had expected. "I thought in a prestigious establishment that there would be more competitiveness."

So was he sad to leave? "I'd love to come back - this isn't like an ordinary restaurant," he says. "In some restaurants you reach a point where you can't learn any more, but I've learnt so much."

It seems Parkin made his mark on Mosimann's too. "He was very willing and friendly, both to customers and staff," says manager Eva Barkasz. But is he the sort of person she would offer a job to? "Yes - I wish there were more around like him." n

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