leading by example
At this moment in time Marcus Wareing is at the very top of the hospitality tree as his eponymous restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel has been rated the best in London by both Harden’s London Restaurants Guide and The Food List: Britain’s Top 100 Restaurants published by The Sunday Times, which also decided that the restaurant was number three in the country after Gidleigh Park in Devon and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Bray. EC caught up with the mighty Marcus shortly after the launch of his latest business – The Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London
In September 2008 one of London’s best-known restaurants – Pétrus – was renamed Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley as the partnership between Marcus and Gordon Ramsay came to an end and Marcus became chef patron. “I am determined to make this London’s finest restaurant,” said Marcus at the time. It is no surprise that his goal has already been achieved as anyone who has had any dealings with this remarkable man knows full well that targets are there to be met as quickly and efficiently as is humanly possible.
In spite of his phenomenal success, Marcus did not grow up dreaming to become a chef. Rather, when he left school at 15, he had expected to join his father in the family business as a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. If it hadn’t been for the challenging change in fortunes of the business and elder brother Brian who encouraged his younger sibling to attend Southport Catering College, we might have been denied some of the most delicious culinary experiences around today. Thanks Brian.
So what is it about Marcus Wareing that has set him apart not only from the ranks of chefs who would give their best paring knife for that elusive first Michelin star, but also from the increasing number of so-called celebrity chefs who appear to spend more time in front of a camera than in a kitchen? EC paid a visit to The Berkeley Hotel where we enjoyed Marcus’s spectacular Prestige Taster Menu before meeting the team that, to a man, had nothing but praise for their formidable boss.
“Marcus is very fair,” says Dimitri Bellos, restaurant manager who has worked with Marcus for three years. “He is passionate about everything he does. He always pushes us as hard as he can so that we can provide great food, great service and a great ambience for everyone who comes here. Marcus gives everything he has to his job and, for people who are prepared to do the same, there is nothing Marcus wouldn’t do to help and progress you in your career.”
James Knappett has been head chef at The Berkeley since January 2011. Aged only 29, James has already worked at ‘The World’s Best Restaurant’ Noma in Copenhagen for two years, but he too is full of praise for the man who still gets to work early in the morning – be it at The Berkeley or Gilbert Scott – to prep food for the day. “I work for a chef who is around every day,” says James, nibbling on a fresh Spanish broad bean; it’s called research, for broad beans will not be on the menu until the British season is in full swing but menus need to be planned and honed to perfection. “And if he’s not here, we talk at least twice a day. Marcus has not lost his roots. His feet are still firmly on the ground and he knows how to bring out the very best of every member of his team.”
A sentiment that is echoed by head sommelier Michael Deschamps: “Marcus knows how to manage people. Under his guidance we are always progressing.” Mind you, as a workman is only as good as his tools, so is the quality of the members of any team in hospitality crucial to the experience offered to the consumer. Talking to Marcus’s painstakingly selected team, it is apparent that each and every person brings with them a passion for what they do; absolutely nothing is too much effort to ensure that the person who has chosen to give this particular establishment their custom has the best experience possible.
Best performance possible
“I care that a customer has pleasure,” says Michael. “In the hospitality industry our jobs are like a show. Whether working in a gastro pub or two Michelin-starred restaurant, I feel we are like actors and we all care that our show is well received. I want to do a great job and make the customer happy. Customers have more knowledge than they did five years ago and it is very important to listen carefully to them at all times. Only by doing this can you give them what they really want.”
As far as this particular customer is concerned, team Wareing need have no fears that its stellar standards fall short of the mark. While the highly imaginative and mind-blowingly delicious food was even better than a layperson could possibly imagine, the experience was enhanced from start to finish as we were looked after by people who genuinely cared, who smiled, who were attentive, who chatted but who knew when enough was enough, who were polite but not obsequious and who were obviously proud of the jobs they were doing to the best of their ability. Surely core aspects of hospitality that should be echoed in every establishment in the land by workers who truly do wish to be hospitable.
In the architecturally stunning surroundings that are The Gilbert Scott, we caught up with Marcus himself. Sure enough he had been there since 8 o’clock that morning prepping fish and would not be leaving until late that night. “There is so much to sort out; it’s going to take at least six months to get this place running exactly as I want,” states the perfectionist.
Opened in May this year, The Gilbert Scott is not to be confused with Marcus’s restaurant at The Berkeley. “This is a brasserie and bar,” explains Marcus. “Here you expect to pay about £40 a head whereas at The Berkeley it would be more like £200 a head. Initially some people expected to have the same experience here as at The Berkeley but this is a whole different ball game. Gilbert Scott is not The Berkeley!”
In spite of the fact that Marcus hadn’t been looking for another business to run, as soon as he saw the building, he fell in love with it and decided there and then that he couldn’t turn his back on it. Now that it is up and running, Marcus is currently working seven days a week to ensure that both establishments run smoothly.
“It’s all about hard work,” smiles Marcus whose team at The Gilbert Scott is led by general manager Chantelle Nicholson. “There is no quick fix in catering. Yes I am working seven days a week at the moment, but that is why I get out of bed in the morning – I am a cook. In spite of the fact that I am running two businesses, cooking and food are still what I do best.”
Doesn’t the man ever get tired? “Yes I do get tired but I ignore it. It’s just a feeling and it’ll go away,” replies Marcus matter of factly picking up another fish to gut.