Choosing a career in hospitality doesn’t happen by accident. Admittedly, a lot of people may spend short periods in service or front of house roles, on their way to another path, but those who stay in hospitality will tell you it is because they love it. There’s usually a story behind deciding to pursue a career that works incredibly long hours, has historically had lower wages and often gets a bad rap. It’s a passion that is set very early on and reinforced along the way.
So, we thought it might be fun to look at the people who influenced us on our journey. (We must have been hungry because most of our list is related to food!)
Here’s who made the cut…
Frank Kelly (aka my dad)
Our house was always food centred. Both of my parents had a love of food and cooking, but my dad was the one who really ‘owned’ our kitchen. He was an amazing cook.
Dad was active military, so was often away. When he came home from being TDY (‘to down yonder’ as we would say) he cooked our Sunday dinners. It was always something different – New England pot roasts, Hungarian goulash or whatever he would dream up/throw together from what we had in the kitchen.
I have fond memories of him explaining everything about what he was doing – how to choose the best produce, how to get the best out of each ingredient. All of this was interspersed with stories about helping his grandmother cook. So, from a young age, I was hooked.
As a child of the 70s, I grew up watching reruns of Julia Child’s cooking show ‘The French Chef’ on PBS. I found it fascinating, watching this strange woman take all of these ingredients (most of which I couldn’t even pronounce), and by the end of each show she had prepared something that you could eat… with her trademark glass of wine, of course!
Her shows were always filled with practical tips about cooking and life in general (probably wine induced musings). In one episode she talked about how Americans were afraid of making things like sugar syrup and caramel and how it was all born of our innate fear of failure. But that if we were not prepared to fail, we would never succeed at cooking. She also added that, as the cook, you could have a disaster and no one would ever know. They would think it was what you had intended all along. So, don’t panic, work with whatever happens and make the best of it.
Her advice really resonated with me. Not only in the kitchen – where I spent many years failing, repeatedly and spectacularly, but throughout my life. She provided food for body and mind.
Ok, so this isn’t the usual influencer story. And, it wasn’t his cooking, or even his hospitality background that has landed him on my list. It was actually Hugh’s persuasive salesmanship skills!
I credit/blame HFW for moving to the west country. I, like thousands of others who were living in London at the time of ‘River Cottage’, was seduced by the country idyll and felt compelled to sell, relocate, keep hens, have a veg patch and raise a few pigs.
Both good and bad came from my insanity (mostly good). But it was certainly a decision which proved a turning point in my life.
Maangchi – Emily Kim
It wasn’t until fairly recently that Korean cooking exploded onto the western food scene. Before 2000, you hardly ever saw a recipe for kimchi, japchae or kalbi outside of a Korean home/restaurant and so all of the recipes I had were the ones I learned from my mom.
The biggest obstacle (aside from the western fear of chillies), was that Koreans do not teach cooking using recipes. When I learned from my mother, she always said ‘don’t ask questions just watch and do’. There was no measuring, none of this weighing out – it was a pinch of this, a handful of that and always – taste, taste, taste!
But then came the YouTube sensations – Emily Kim (aka Maangchi). She started teaching the world how to make some of my favourite childhood recipes. And she reminded me of many I’d forgotten. So, for giving me access to all the recipes I’ve missed since leaving Korea – Emily makes my list (and my bookmarks).
My arrival at Exeter College’s catering block had come as a surprise, I’d been having an interview to study A levels – Law, politics, sociology and one other that I don’t recall when I had a change of heart. So, when September 89 arrived I was studying a BTEC National Diploma in Hotel and Catering, along with my 706/1 and 2. This is where I was introduced to Ceserani and Kinton’s Practical Cookery, an industry bible which still sits in amongst the cookery books in my kitchen.
Ceserani was my introduction to cooking for others, and whilst it wasn’t a career path I wished to pursue (mainly because I ate too much during my stints in the kitchen), time spent cooking ignited further an interest I already had – a love of eating fresh produce, and nutrition. I still refer to my orange bible regularly, whether it’s during a discussion with my son about where a particular cut of meat is from or I’m looking for a recipe to make scones.
I love Jamie Oliver. He hit our screens as I joined a hotel whose focus was award-winning food. So, as my interest in local produce and quality cooking grew, there he was. I feel like I’ve grown up with him. He feels like someone I went to school with – friendly, accessible, honest and a family man.
When Jamie’s School Dinners and his Feed Me Better campaign launched, I was pregnant and felt passionately about what he was trying to achieve. I recalled eating a packed lunch at primary school rather than the dire school meals they used to serve. Who else remembers pink semolina? – yuk! And so, he found a space in my heart. I have five of his cookbooks, the last I bought 5 years ago – Everyday Super Food, but I feel like he has something to offer every home cook. Even if it’s just his cheeky grin!
When my son Elliott was born I was one of those mums that wanted to give my child the best start in life, and so along with regular feeding and bedtimes, I took to pureeing and freezing ice cubes of fresh vegetables and fruit. The first solid food my son experienced was butternut squash which he wolfed down.
The desire to provide healthy home-cooked meals that Elliott would enjoy led me to Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, from which we both enjoyed many meals and snacks. Elliott was always involved in the preparation process, peeling potatoes from about 3 years old. It was our quality time together. He still enjoys cooking and has chosen this as one of his GCSE’s so I think I can safely say Annabel Karmel has influenced us both. Incidentally, I still cook Annabel’s nursery fish pie which has become a firm family favourite!
Beautiful, flirtatious and so at ease in the kitchen. I’d like just one of those traits!
Kit Chapman, MBE
Kit made both of our lists for many reasons. Love him or loathe him, you cannot work with Kit without coming away feeling somehow better and/or stronger for having done so. Here is the reason why we both feel he has been a huge influence…
Having endured a three-hour interview, in 1999 I joined The Castle Hotel, Taunton as their Sales & Marketing Manager. Renowned Proprietor Kit Chapman, with his London advertising background, had strong opinions on advertising and marketing which I became aware of very quickly. I had come from a 550 bedroom airport hotel, back to my West Country roots and to say there were a few differences would be a gross understatement.
Kit had hosted Music Weekends for many years. Music to me meant Blur and Oasis, with titles such as Girls and Boy and Wonderwall, not Bach and Mozart with titles of Serenade No. 13 for strings in G Major, and it was whilst trying to put together a brochure for the forthcoming music weekend that I was reduced to tears for the second and last time in a workplace. Kit, whilst being frustrated at my lack of culture, handed me a tissue and though I don’t recall what was said, it made me realise that under his hard exterior, he really did care about his team.
I’ve always admired his passion, not only for the very best of food, wine and service, but in everything he does. He has a very clear vision for every project he’s involved with and he’s a grafter. He is a traditional hotelier, always putting the comfort and happiness of his guests first – a true host, and I find this humbling.
He is like a father figure. Like my dad, he’s worked hard for what he’s achieved and I admire this. I would ask his advice and listen to it, like I would my dad (although probably not follow either of them).
I was hired at The Castle Hotel in 2010, covertly whilst Kit was away on holiday. During the interview, I was questioned repeatedly on how well I could deal with ‘criticism, a strong opinion… and a bit of yelling’. I remember answering, that as a journalist, I was very used to those things – so not a problem.
On my first day, this very posh sounding man rang the hotel – it was Kit and the first interaction I’d ever had with him. He hadn’t been informed of my being hired and was obviously annoyed by this lack of communication. “Who are you and what will you do in my hotel”, he demanded. I replied, “I’m your new part-time PA”. “Well, we’ll see about that”, he retorted. As I hung up the phone, I finally understood the reason for my ominous interview!
When Kit returned from holiday, the whole pace and place transformed. His arrival was something like a hurricane landing… and I was in his path.
Kit threw everything he could at me, trying to knock me off balance and test my nerve. It was daunting. But the worst moment was when he told me that I was going to do design work for the Castle (posters and flyers), something I’d never done before. I protested and said I have no idea what I’m doing, and he would reply flatly, “you’ll figure it out”. The challenge was issued – I was terrified.
Everyone in the building thought he was mad, but Kit insisted I was going to design print material. His utterly unshakable faith that I would make it happen, made me feel as though I couldn’t let him down. So, I spent weeks teaching myself how to use graphic design software. I designed some of the ugliest posters and flyers I’d ever seen and secretly hoped these would make him abandon the absurd idea. Yet, somehow, I did finally manage to create something he liked. For me, it was a real achievement and just a taste of things to come. I learned an incredible amount during my time working with Kit (usually under duress!).
Kit was my harshest critic and my most encouraging mentor – all wrapped up into one. He helped me to discover talents and interests I never realised I possessed. And for that I will be forever grateful.