Mark Morris: Skills, the selection process and what’s new for The Staff Canteen Live

21/12/2017 15:13:11

The Staff Canteen Live in association with Westlands, returns to Hotelympia this March with a stellar line-up of some of the UK’s most exciting chefs, including; Sat Bains and John Freeman from two Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham; Paul Ainsworth, from Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 in Padstow, Cornwall; Dan Doherty, executive chef at 24-hour restaurant Duck and Waffle and Pip Lacey, winner of 2017’s Great British Menu.

Ahead of the show, we caught up with Managing Director, Mark Morris, to talk skills, the selection process and what’s new for 2018.

Mark, it’s another fantastic line up, what’s your criteria for going about selecting the chefs? Where do you start?

There are lots of different ways we do it, some may even approach us. We are always on the look-out for chefs that are topical – we have just secured Lisa Allen, who’s just taken over at Northcote so we’re delighted to have her. Pip Lacey’s got a new restaurant, Hicce, on the way, so we’ve got her involved. Because of the live format, it’s also incredibly important to pick people that have personality, so Sat Bains for example – not only a great cook and a crowd puller, but very, very funny on stage.

We also try to invite people who are not only exceptionally good but maybe out of the mainstream, London media spotlight, someone like Gareth Ward from Ynyshir Restaurant with Rooms in North Wales – very isolated but doing an amazing job. And we always try, wherever possible, not to repeat. I think that’s important to the audience – they don’t want to come to The Staff Canteen Live to see the same chefs every time.

Any changes for 2018?

We’ve teamed up with drinks wholesaler, Matthew Clarke, so when the chefs supply their recipes, the Matthew Clarke team will be pairing the perfect wine to accompany it.  Then at the end of each chef demo, just before we do the Q&A, the guys will come on stage and talk about the flavour profile, why it matches the dish, and the audience will get to sample it along with the food. That’s great for the audience and a bit of an evolution for us.

So what do you want visitors to walk away with?

I want them to have had fun and enjoyed it. Hopefully they’ve learnt something, they’ve had access to someone they potentially wouldn’t have access to on a day to day basis and that might be something as simple as getting a selfie with the chef. Of course, if they can learn a technique, if they can be inspired, if they can take a tip away – fantastic. But also it’s not just about the people at the show, one of the things we always try to do is work with a local college, and we’ll be doing the same this year. It’s one of the biggest motivations for me, having one of the students on stage with some of the biggest names in the business. For them, that’s an amazing opportunity to share the stage with people who influence and lead the industry. The experience is invaluable.

With regards to young chefs, what in your view can be done to try to safeguard skills and get young people more energized about the industry?

I think the industry has to start celebrating itself more, it has to start saying, ‘this is an amazing place to come and work’. One of things we always ask the chefs on stage is, there’s an audience of chefs out there, what do they have to do to come and work for you? And I think we are seeing a change, we are seeing people introduce four day weeks, we’re seeing people working three days off, four days on, we’re seeing people reducing working hours and I think the industry has got to start being a little bit more positive about this and shout about its successes, of which there are many.

To go back to grass roots, I think everybody in this great industry has a responsibility to ensure that people coming in to it are fully aware of what’s at stake. The chefs we have on The Staff Canteen Live all know about hard graft, I don’t believe in any industry there’s a quick route to success.  We have a celebrity culture now where people want instant fame and gratification and they don’t want to work.  It’s not solely a problem in catering, it’s everywhere. We just need to prepare people who come into the industry that there is no instant route to fame, it’s a journey, it’s a path, but the industry has to make sure that that path is a guided one, and provide the appropriate mentoring, training and development plans.

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