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Caines, Haworth, Heathcote: five stars in one room

Jonathan Schofield talks Hospitality Action, alcoholism and celebrity cheffing

Published on May 14th 2012.


Caines, Haworth, Heathcote: five stars in one room

DISAPPOINTMENT was etched on his face like a United fan after the late, late City goal.

We’re around alcohol all the time, so you have a glass or two, it becomes three, it becomes a habit, it becomes a problem. There’s is a lot of stress and you can feel the need to relax after work, go out late. 

The gent in his late fifties had arrived with his wife and two other couples at Michael Caines' Abode restaurant on Piccadilly.

"Is there no room at all. I've told them what a good restaurant it is," he said, his arms wide in appeal. "I didn't book because I thought we'd be ok. They've been looking forward to it all week."

The receptionist was genuinely sympathetic.

"I'm really sorry,sir," she said. "But it's a charity event for Hospitality Action and we've been full for a while."

The crestfallen group sloped away for a snack in the cafe area of the hotel. 

Michael Caines concentratesMichael Caines concentrates

Minutes after I was sat with Paul Heathcote, Nigel Haworth and, host for the evening, Michael Caines.

Over their careers they've gathering in five Michelin stars, two for Paul Heathcote at Longridge, Lancashire, two for Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park, Devon, and one for Nigel Haworth at Northcote Manor, also in Lancashire.

This firmanent of celestial bodies were in town to cook up a charity gig at £100 a head for Hospitality Action.

But first, after we've all sat down with a beer, I ask."Have you any spare places tonight?" I ask

"We're full, why do you ask?" says Caines.

"There were six people in reception who were desperate to dine. It might blow their minds if they were offered food from Messrs Caines, Heathcote and Haworth, three big food 'names'."

The three chefs looked between themselves, grinned, and nodded. 

"It'll be a squeeze, but if they want we'll accommodate them," said Caines.

They were accommodated, they were blown away.

Caines, Heathcote and Haworth could form a stand-up trio talking about their cheffing experiences, sparking off one another.

They're amiable, light-hearted, almost relaxed, despite the prospect of more than eighty diners about to descend all of whom are expecting 'an experience'.

Despite this conviviality the cause they are promoting is more serious. So what is Hospitality Action? 

"It's a charity that takes care of people who've fallen on hard times in the industry," says Caines. "It acts as a net for people from the bottom to the top in the industry who've got problems, who've maybe had an accident or devloped mental illness. All of us do a lot for other charities, we’re always being asked to host dinners but this is about us doing something for the people we work with."

Nigel Haworth leans forward and takes up the reins.

"This is the third largest industrial sector in Britain," he says. "We've all got stories. I was taught by Mike Quinn, the first British chef in the Ritz's history to hold the top cheffing job there. He became an alcoholic.

"When I first went down to see him at Ettington Park in Warwickshire he was being carried out of the place into an ambulance completely drunk. He went through all sorts of problems and anxieties, and that always stuck with me. Now he’s a reformed guy and heads up the Arc Foundation which is all about telling young people how to get off alcohol and drugs.

"We have a lot of great things in our industry but we’ve not got to forget there are difficult issues that people sometimes fail to cope with. If we all do one or two days a year for charity then it really helps."

Nigel Haworth working hardNigel Haworth working hard

I ask the group whether Hospitality Action is particularly necessary in catering because of the industry's distinctive stresses. Catering is all about unsocial hours, demanding guests and idiot critics like me. A well-balanced family life, or even professional life, might be difficult and the temptations of drugs and alcohol hard to avoid.

"I’m not sure drugs and alcohol just goes with catering. It can be a really tough industry but it's not alone in that," says Paul Heathcote.

"Michael Caines could have given up when he was injured in the accident. (He was in a car accident which cost him his right arm in 1994. He was back in the kitchen part time within two weeks, and full-time after just four.) But he continued and prospered. Others don't get as far of course and sometimes things happen which prevent that, this is where the charity comes in.

"I remember a chef de partie, called Rory Kennedy, who fell downstairs and died. Hospitality Action looked after his wife and kids. 

"You look at the kitchen we’re working in now," Heathcote continues. "It's highly unlikely that any of the people will be in the fortunate position that we’re in. There might be a star or two in there, time will tell, but whether it’s because us three are lucky, were in the right place at the right time, single-minded or talented, we now have the ability to help those who don't rise so far. I believe if you give a lot you’ll get a lot back. This is the case with the charity."

Paul Heathcote cheffing awayPaul Heathcote cheffing away

"Our industry can be unsocial and is pressurised," agrees Caines. "Remember too, we’re around alcohol all the time, so you have a glass or two, it becomes three, it becomes a habit, it becomes a problem. There is a lot of stress and you can feel the need to relax after work, go out late. The pressures are compounded by the nature of what we do and the environment we work within."

"There's also the pressure having six more people to worry about tonight - thanks to you," laughs Nigel Haworth and the others join in.

"We have to remember," says Caines, "that with the difficulties comes the good stuff. We also do things that give pleasure to others, that require craft, and are very satisfying. Tonight we've asked for £100, the charity gets a clear £50 of that. We're giving people something joyful but also putting money to a good cause. But from 14 May we're asking for something else."

"And what's that?" I ask.

"It's Hospitality Action Week," says Caines. "We’re putting a pound on every bill that will be donated to the charity. When I lost my arm I didn’t know where my career could go. The Hospitality Action week is all about raising the profile of the charity outside the industry so it can help more people."

 

Kitchen businessKitchen business

"The charity’s the key," Haworth takes over, "but it is good for us three to get together. I mean Michael’s always in Devon, Paul’s always on holiday and I’m always slaving away in the Northcote kitchen. (More laughter)

"We’ll all stay tonight and have a few beers, compare experiences. All in all it’s a good night out. In the end working with Hospitality Action might ignite something else, other ideas."

I ask whether the brigade working in the Abode kitchen are vomiting with fear at working with the three of them. 

"No, they love it," says Caines. "As a young chef I lived for moments like this. What an occasion to cook with people who've got high in the industry. People have come in on their days off and want to be part of it."

Learning all the wayLearning all the way

We finish off discussing the nature of 'celebrity chefs'. Is it sad that people need the incentive of the 'name' to attend these events?

"Not at all," says Heathcote. "We should be thankful for being well-known, because when I began in the eighties - fifteen years before," he pauses and looks up with a grin, "I mean, after Nigel Haworth - it was different.

"There was no notion of 'name' chefs, there were two or three on the TV who were more like presenters or personalities rather than real chefs with proper restaurants. In fact there was a bit of that British thing were to be famous as a chef you needed a French name or an Italian one. We’re fortunate that the industry has changed given itself so much higher a profile. I don’t knock that celebrity side of things at all - Jamie Oliver, or whoever."

"I think that the outside perception is that as 'name' chefs we’re jealous of each other, or worried about each other’s achievements. That’s not true, we’re all comfortable in our own skin and all confident in what we do.

It's perhaps worth remembering that Paul Heathcote and Nigel Haworth have been at the vanguard of the re-invention of excellence in British food production and cooking.

 

Part of the banquetPart of the banquet

 

"It’s a privilege to be asked to work in the company of people who’ve done something really well," says Heathcote. "And none of it comes easy, you know. I was watching Nigel and the lad working hard over a particular celeriac preparation, that involved a lot of winding-up. I thought, that’s not bloody easy. Ninety nine out of 100 chefs would have avoided it."

"That's what's so good about getting together," says Caines. "I think that the outside perception is that as so-called 'name' chefs we’re jealous of each other, or worried about each other’s achievements.

"That’s not true, we’re all comfortable in our own skin and all confident in what we do. This is the first time we’ve cooked together in the kitchen but it's gone really well. Five stars in one room – we look at our achievements and we know how hard it is to have got there.

"Working with Hospitality Action underlines this for us, and also underlines all the times when things could have gone wrong - how close to falling off an edge you are. If our names are being used to help sell the work of Hospitality Action that's a good thing."

You can follow Jonathan Schofield here @JonathSchofield

Hospitality Action Fundraising Week runs from from 14-20 May. By encouraging diners to add a discretionary donation of £1 on their bill for just one week the charity can ensure it continues with its work. The charity offers vital assistance to all who work, or have worked, within hospitality in the UK and find themselves in crisis. Restaurants who wish to register should call Emily on 0203 0045503 or email fundraising@hospitalityaction.org.uk.

Dsc_8091[1]Yum

Dsc_8049_[1]Interior of MC at Abode

Gorgeous noshGorgeous nosh

Busy, busyBusy, busy


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