Nurturing Talent for this Generation and the Next

Andreas Antona
Andreas Antona

Chef Patron of Simpsons Restaurant and The Cross Kenilworth

“Having run restaurants in the heart of England for the past 21 years, I have witnessed a significant amount of positive change in the region. I was delighted when the news came through that Birmingham had secured its fifth Michelin star and it is a credit to the chefs and restaurateurs here who have all played their part in the transformation.

Working in a top restaurant requires a huge amount of commitment. We wanted Simpsons to become an extended family for the team. Luke Tipping, Chef Director of Simpsons, and I have spent many years nurturing young chefs to become the best they could be and I am proud to see the likes of Glynn Purnell, Andy Waters and Matt Davies now running such successful establishments.

Unfortunately, whilst we have some fantastic chefs in the region, there is currently a vacuum of young people coming up through the ranks. I have spent the last 30 years recruiting, training and promoting a number of excellent chefs and have come to realise that these days you have to ‘grow your own’.
I encourage every chef and restaurateur to invest time in developing young talent. Being a chef is not just about cooking, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our industry is supported for the next generation.

It is always good to see members of the Simpsons ‘family’ doing their bit to nurture talent. Luke continues to lead from the front at Simpsons and together we are proud to see Matt Davies, of The Moat House, prove himself as a fantastic mentor with his involvement in the Staffordshire Young Chef of the Year competition. Matt  was also recently appointed Vice Chair of the British Culinary Federation (BCF), an organisation that champions young talent through its competitions and involvement in the World Association of Chefs Societies. Matt Cheal, who spent sixteen years with us, is now running Cheal’s of Henley and already receiving fantastic reviews; and Adam Bennett, now Chef Director at The Cross in Kenilworth achieving his first Michelin Star, mentored Kristian Curtis to become the world’s best commis in the Bocuse d’Or 2013.

As a Senior Governor for University College Birmingham (UCB) I am involved in many decisions that help improve the training of young chefs in the region. In 2015 we introduced the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Apprenticeship and we already have ten students on the scheme.

UCB is an asset for local businesses. The catering facilities are among, if not, the best in the country and are run by a fantastic team who understand the challenges that students face when they head out to work in the industry. The team at UCB treat their role in the development of the next generation very seriously, as was demonstrated when they built a replica kitchen to help Adam and Kristian to achieve the best result ever in the Bocuse d’Or. Brad and his talented brigade at Carters of Moseley have all benefitted from their studies at the university and the likes of Jack Gameson, runner up in this year’s BCF Young Chef of the Year competition, prove that there is plenty of new talent on the horizon.

Of course it is not only great chefs in the kitchen that assure accolades such as a Michelin star. The quality of customer service is a major component to a positive dining experience. Despite Simpsons having a fantastic reputation for training and service, it still remains a challenge to attract star players when it comes to front of house. There may be a skills shortage of chefs but there are even fewer front of house people who have the skills required in a
high-end restaurant. In fact, I would go as far to say that you could count the best restaurant managers in this country on one hand.

In the past, emphasis was on the maître d’hotel when it came to fine dining, however, in recent years the chefs have taken over and taken the limelight. Perhaps this has led to a downturn in those attracted to the profession but it needs to change because every good restaurant needs a good restaurant manager. I was reminded about the talent of a true restaurant manager when we recruited Giuseppe Longobardi at The Cross Kenilworth. Giuseppe is the real deal – not only does he possess a passion and natural ability for keeping customers happy but he also has great financial acumen. He is willing to take on new challenges and develop ideas to drive the business. He is also training up a team of talented waiters and waitresses who I hope will go on to share their skills and experience.

So, all is not lost and I do believe that young people in the industry have more energy, determination and dedication than ever. Their energy, vibe and understanding of provenance and quality of food is second to none. I have dealt with young people who really want to make a difference and it is great to see the future through their eyes.

In this respect the future does bode well but tradition is forever being challenged. Without the right training we are in danger of losing a whole generation of talent and it is up to today’s educators, restaurateurs and chefs to do as much as we can to fill this gap. Between us, we can arm these young people with the skills and experience they need to deliver fantastic food and service. We can also add value to the profession through qualifications, defined
career paths and mentoring.

I always think of Simpsons as a family and of hospitality as a lifestyle. Throughout my career many individuals who helped me to become a respected chef and restaurateur have inspired me. I have also been inspired by the potential of the next generation but now it is up to restaurateurs and chefs to take responsibility and show just how rewarding a career in hospitality can be.”

Words by Andreas Antona, Simpsons Restaurant

Andreas’ Recipes feature in Signature Chefs Recipe Book 2015, alongside Glynn Purnell, Luke Tipping, Matt Davies, Adam Bennett & Brad Carter. More Here

Simpsons Brigade 2015
Simpsons Brigade 2015