Not content with spending all their time at home together as husband and wife, Mark and Shauna Froydenlund are now spending their working lives with each other, as joint chef-patrons and business partners at Marcus at the Berkeley in London. Fiona Sims asks them how wedded bliss works in the kitchen
Mark and Shauna Froydenlund enjoy the very unusual position of sharing the chef-patron role at one of the capital's top restaurants. In fact, it's a role shared only with that other London kitchen power couple, Sam and Sam Clark at Moro. And outside the UK, at this level, there's just chefs Helena Rizzo and husband Daniel Redondo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but they don't normally do service together.
For five days a week you'll find the Froydenlunds leading the pass together as they send out plates into the busy, 74-seat, two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The restaurant's eponymous creator in chief, Marcus Wareing, appointed the husband and wife team as chef-patrons at his flagship restaurant in February, as well as making them partners in the business.
The presenter of BBC Two's MasterChef: The Professionals reveals that the appointment of the couple is part of his master plan to drive the business forward. "My commitments in my job and all the other things that I do can distract me from the main event, which is the Berkeley. Now I can breathe a little bit," says Wareing. "Mark and Shauna's loyalty, their commitment and their honesty is key to this partnership - and it's nice to have business partners that are so close to me. That this restaurant gets better with or without me is, I think, a very cool thing."
The Froydenlunds both started working with Wareing at what was then Pétrus 10 years ago. They were part of the team that saw the restaurant at the Berkeley go through major changes - the first from Pétrus to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in 2008, and then the 2014 refurbishment which saw the 'deformalisation' of fine dining and a rename to Marcus, so the couple have played a big part in its growth and ongoing success.
So just how does it work? Eating, sleeping and working with a partner is one thing - and there are plenty who do it, especially in hospitality, but the usual set-up is one out the front, the other in the back, each with their own domains. But both in the kitchen and on the pass? Being creative together, constructing menus and plates together? It's more than most of us can get our heads around, and it's viewed with equal amounts of admiration and incredulity, judging by the torrent of media interest.
"We were in a relationship from day one, so it's just normal for us. Remember we've been doing this together for eight or nine years now," shrugs Shauna.
Mark adds: "We are the product of the same kitchen, so we have similar ideas. We've shared a lot of the same experiences with food over the last few years, so in that sense it's quite natural - and obviously we've both been influenced hugely by Marcus."
So what does each of them bring to the role? "Shauna is a lot better at looking at a dish from the point of view of the customer," says Mark. "She is very good at letting me know what
I can and can't get away with - she's a good barometer. Take our suckling pig dish, for example. I love fat, but Shauna knows when there's too much on the plate and how much it needs to be trimmed down."
So they do collaborate on particular dishes together? "Yes, to a certain extent. But I think that the best way of looking at it is how we've influenced the menu as a whole rather than a particular dish," says Mark.
Wareing does get involved, just not in the day-to-day stuff. "He's not on the rota and he leaves us to run the kitchen, but he's around - he has a presence. Marcus will always bounce in with ideas," explains Shauna.
Mark adds: "When he's here he'll try everything, give us feedback and suggest tweaks. He's always right, which can be a bit annoying."
Shauna says: "But we've worked together for so long, it's so nice, and obviously he trusts us. He'll always be there for support, which is really important. To learn the business and learn from him - that's the whole point of us doing this."
"Most importantly, Marcus wants us to keep changing things - which is quite unusual," adds Mark. "He knows he can't invest every day of his life in this, so to allow us to drive this forward is really special and a great opportunity."
I ask Wareing later how difficult it has been for him to take a step back. "You don't step back. You have to learn to share," he replies. "But actually my job today is the same as it was before I signed up Mark and Shauna as partners. The difference is that now I'm teaching them the art of business and I've got another two pairs of eyes overlooking things. I can't teach them anything more about food."
Back to the floor
One of the ways that the couple has been driving the business forward is by paying special attention to the team, which includes Shauna enjoying the restaurant as a customer. She's even done a couple of services on the floor.
"I did it to understand what these guys do, so we can give them everything they need to do their jobs as well as they can," she says. "We don't want to be driving it completely from the kitchen - there needs to be that level of respect and for it to flow both ways. Understanding from a service point of view what we are pushing out of the kitchen and what they can deal with on the floor in that timeframe is important. I think more chefs should do it. It totally opened my eyes. We're trying to inspire and drive the team, which I think we can only do if we understand all of their roles."
When the company announced three years ago that it would be 'de-formalising' the fine-dining concept here and re-branding it as Marcus, there was some scoffing from the critics. It's still Knightsbridge, after all, and the restaurant is located in a five-star hotel - so how has it worked for them?
"I prefer to call it 'relaxing' the restaurant," says Mark. "It's about connecting the waiter to the guest, the guest to the food and the food to the producer and making sure everything makes sense. That's what's really important."
"The food was amazing back then, but it was too fidgety," says Shauna. "You know what I mean - round pommes Anna, rounds of beef. There was too much waste. Now we pretty much use everything. It's about great food you can eat time and time again. There's a lightness to the menu now."
Adds Mark: "Looking back through our photo library, it's really nice to see the transition of the food. We've become a lot more refined, and it took a couple of years for me to be really comfortable doing the style of food that I wanted to do. Now I feel like we really know where we want to go. I finally feel that we've got the balance right between the customers' expectations of a two-star in Knightsbridge and what we want to cook."
The style of service has relaxed, too. "There's no arrogance to it - from the moment you walk in the door. Marcus has always says he wants this to be an extension of his living room. OK, so it's a smart living room, but the moment you sit down, you relax. We say that to the staff, too - relax, let the guests see your personality, build a rapport," says Shauna.
They pair highlight the general attitude at Marcus to be among the biggest changes at the restaurant. "We don't believe in roaring and screaming to get the best out of people, and if we don't speak to our team in that way, then they aren't allowed to speak to people in that way either. It's a case of leading by example," says Shauna, who has a 24-strong brigade with 14 on at any one time.
Getting the best out of people also means giving the chefs some space to be creative. "For example, we've just started doing this squid dish using a recipe given to us by one of our Italian commis chefs. He told us that where he grew up on the Amalfi coast they fry squid after dipping it in a mixture of semolina and flour and then plunging it into iced water. It's so much better than the way we had been doing it. It's about being open-minded and not being afraid to let other people have an input. In the past, our chefs would have had their heads down and they wouldn't have had the time to give us those ideas, but now we have given them the space to do that. It instils some pride into the team and makes our job - and the dish - so much better," says Mark.
In fact, this nurturing is key to the direction the restaurant group, which also includes Tredwells and the Gilbert Scott, is taking, reveals group operations director Chantelle Nicholson: "It allows us to stay two steps ahead. We can't be running at the same pace as everyone else, especially with the challenges we will face ahead with Brexit," she says.
"It's about investing in the right people and recognising that talent and developing it.
"We have a lot of staff that have been with us for a long time, and yes, that's unusual. But that's down to the way we run the group. There is a sense of autonomy and input that keeps people motivated. Everybody feels part of the business and that is working well for us."
But after working together all day, do the Froydenlunds talk shop on their day off?
"I don't, because I have a good off-switch," says Mark. "Whereas I generally talk a lot more anyway, so that doesn't help, but in general we try and keep things separate," Shauan grins.
On their two days off that they take each week, they spend Sundays together at home, chilling out, exercising, going to other restaurants, and the other day is spent separately. "It's good to have your own space," says Shauna.
So what is their long-term goal? Will they open a restaurant themselves one day? "Well, we are together now and where this leads to, we don't know," says Mark. "We've just got married and, fingers crossed, we'll have a family one day, and though we're not quite sure how it will all fit in, it's definitely something we will be thinking about in the future. But this is giving us the opportunity to hopefully do everything we have ever wanted to do," assures Mark, and Shauna nods vigorously.
Wareing wraps up the benefits of keeping your talent close: "The message I want to put out there is that this is not just about me. It's about the people in the team. It's unique for someone in the industry to do this, but I can do it because it's my company and I haven't got a board of directors telling me what to do."
"The company growth might be a little slow when you compare it to others, but that's because I want to grow this talent. I guarantee you that if they work with me the way that I want them to work, then they'll be in my shoes in 10 to 15 years - they'll be their own bosses, without ever having to go to the bank. As you get further down the line in this business, I believe you have to be both a mentor in the kitchen as well as in business, and I love both just as much."
The Froydenlunds - the early years
Shauna Froydenlund is originally from Derry in Northern Ireland and she comes from a family of restaurateurs. After gaining a first-class honours in hospitality and culinary arts at Sheffield Hallam University, she scored a student placement at what was then Pétrus, where she first met Marcus Wareing.
After finishing her degree, she was offered a role at the newly launched Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, beginning as demi chef de partie on pastry, moving up quickly to head pastry chef alongside her husband-to-be, Mark.
Then, in 2011, Shauna moved over to the Gilbert Scott, Wareing's restaurant in King's Cross, to help with its launch before moving back in 2012 to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, where she was senior sous chef to Mark.
In 2014, Mark and Shauna were part of the team that re-launched the restaurant as Marcus, and in 2015 she worked alongside Wareing consulting on the Weinstein Company's film production, Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.
But with a lingering passion still left to explore, and with Wareing's blessing, she left the group and took a one-year teaching role with the John Lewis Partnership at its flagship cookery school in North London before returning to Marcus in February 2016 to go into a partnership with Wareing as joint chef-patron with her husband.
Mark Froydenlund hails from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, where he started working in the kitchen of a local restaurant at the age of 16. He then trained at London's Westminster Kingsway College, where a lecturer spotted his prodigious talent and arranged for him to meet Marcus Wareing. An impressed Wareing offered Mark a job as commis chef at what was then Pétrus in 2007.
Mark was part of the team that saw the restaurant change ownership and name from Pétrus to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in 2008. By moving around the kitchen and honing his skills in each section, he made it to sous chef within just three years.
By 2012, at 27, he became head chef at the two-Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and, in 2014, he was a key player in the team when it relaunched as Marcus. He also won an Acorn Award in 2013.
In 2016 Mark took part in the BBC TV series Great British Menu and his main course dish, 'A celebration of rose veal', scored perfect 10s and won him a place at the Westminster Palace banquet.
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In