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Creating the Ultimate Dining Experience – We talk to Chris Galvin

Chris is a Michelin-starred chef, co-owner of seven family run restaurants and one of Britain’s top chefs. Far from an easy journey, he talks about the disappointment of the hotel he was Chef Director of, closing due to the recession, what gave him the drive to continue and why it’s so important to support young people.

Rob Kirby – Thanks for taking the time out to come and talk to us. So tell me, how did it all start?

Chris Galvin – I share the same passion as my brother, Jeff, and we wanted to tap into our love of food and offer something special to the world, something that would allow us to combine fresh ingredients, amazing spaces and fabulous people to create a beautiful unique experience. In 2005 we opened Bistrot de Luxe, which was a great success – we won numerous awards including the ‘Best French Restaurant’. We decided to expand on our success and opened Galvin at Windows in the Hilton, Park Lane, followed by two more restaurants five years later in 2009, La Chapelle and Café à Vin in Spitalfields.

RK – These restaurants were so successful, so what made you decide to partner with other brands?

CG – We then opened Demoiselle in Harrods, Knightsbridge in 2012 (a petite Bistrot) and also The Pompadour by Galvin (a beautiful listed dining room) on the first floor of the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, and Brasserie de Luxe, which is located on the ground floor. Both brands seemed to fit together so well and the space was amazing – they were about quality, luxury, simplicity and elegance. We thought it would be a great opportunity to work in an amazing space, with so much character, to create an excellent and memorable dining experience.

RK – That’s a considerable achievement in such a short period of time. It can’t have been easy?

CG – You’re so right, it has been a rollercoaster and there were a lot of difficult days; we had to take risks to get where we are but it was worth it.

During the 80’s I lost everything. I was a director of a hotel and overnight our car park went from being full to empty. The receivers came in, the business went under – as did I – and I was left with nothing. It taught me life will often throw you a curve ball but you have to get up and carry on.

It’s never been about the money for Jeff or I, which is perhaps why we had the drive to carry on. It was our passion to create a wonderful experience for people using nice ingredients to create amazing dishes and serve them in a spectacular environment with lots of character. We believed in our vision and are of the mentality we’d rather do things well than cut back. I’m a big believer that money comes as a consequence of doing things well. If you put that behind you and have faith that things will happen then they will.

RK – It’s not all about the food is it?

CG – The Galvin Restaurants are about more than good food, they are about the whole dining experience and for us this means working in a great space. We’ve gone to great lengths to balance and enhance the beauty of the existing structures of the properties we’re using. We look for an amazing space, with character, to help create an excellent and memorable dining experience.

Our aim is to make sure that whenever someone opens the door and walks in it takes their breath away. Whilst space and food is important we know we are only as good as our people and so made sure that we put an infrastructure in place very early on to support growth. In many ways it was too early and meant we weren’t really making much, but we needed this to help growth and ensure we retain the best.

RK – Talking of people. How do you ensure your team bring this experience to life?

CG – We start by teaching our guys how to be customers. We teach our team to think about things in the same way our customers do. What do they feel? What do they want? We also work closely with local restaurants and hotels, giving our team the chance to experience customer service elsewhere and work elsewhere. It’s a great way to learn new skills – cross training in a different way.

RK – Chris, another passion of yours is to get more people in to the kitchen. Tell us more…

CG – Yes, I enjoy a challenge, especially when it involves my life’s passion. Here the challenge is convincing young people to try new things. Life is full of obstacles and for the majority the opportunity isn’t there, so by opening our doors and encouraging young people in via the Galvin’s Chance apprentice programme, it goes a long way to breaking down the barriers.

It’s really important for our industry to make sure we have fresh talent coming through the ranks. People learn by making mistakes so it’s important to build an environment where they can come in and learn by trial and error. Sure it’s a risk but with the right framework it works, and it works really well.

Don’t be scared of making mistakes. That’s what life is all about. Taking risks.