At the table with…Paul Hurren

20/10/2015 - 12:43
Paul Hurren, managing director of Lusso Catering, the city fine-dining business within the CH&Co catering group, is the new chair of the Association of Catering Excellence. He talks to David Foad.

David Foad: What did you want to do when you left school?

Paul Hurren: I wanted to be a chef all my life, my earliest childhood memory was cooking with my grandmother, who baked twice a week for the family, and I used to get to join in. It was with her that I found my love for pastry.

How did you get into catering?

I did the old-fashioned college courses, City & Guilds 706 1 and 2, and a 705 hotel management course at Great Yarmouth College, straight from school at 16 after passing my O Levels – all much to my father’s disappointment, who wanted me to go to university and gain a position in law or banking.

Can you tell us a bit about your early career?

I started my career working front of house as a waiter in a small family-run restaurant, Plumes, in a small market town in Suffolk. It was a job where you had to muck in and help in all areas, and the chef patron would let me assist with starters and desserts. From there, I never looked back; straight after college, I wanted to head off from sleepy Suffolk to work in hotels, and my first job was at The Angel in Guildford, which was part of the Trusthouse Forte Group back then. I remember working for a month in the banqueting pastry section of The Grosvenor House Hotel as part of my training – an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Was there anyone who proved a good mentor to you?

I have had the pleasure to work with many great mentors. Mike Smith from my days at Baxter & Platts. Alison Tyler at CH&Co, when I first joined the company and I worked for her in the City. But Robyn Jones has always been an inspirational character to me. The amazing company her and Tim built over the last 24 years is astounding.

When did you join Lusso/CH&Co?

I joined CH&Co Group, or Charlton House as it was then, in 2003 as operations director. I was promoted to managing director in 2010 at the time when we rebranded our specialist sectors of the business. Lusso focuses on delivering best-quality workplace dining, hospitality, fine dining and events for City clients.

What was your first involvement with Association of Catering Excellence (ACE)?

I have been attending ACE events for years, back in the days when I worked with William and Robert at Baxter & Platts in the 1990s.

What attracted you to it?

It was a great opportunity to catch up with a wide range of friends and colleagues from the industry; whether it be competitors, suppliers or recruitment consultants, it meant you could catch up with a handful of people in one evening over a glass of wine.

How do you think you and your employees have benefitted from what ACE does?

In a modern world of social media communication, it gives people an opportunity to chat and network face to face in many London venues they wouldn’t get to see inside, such as the beautiful historic livery halls.

How has your predecessor Jeni Edwards helped ACE?

Jeni has really worked hard at making some great changes. She was instrumental in introducing the ACE Sustains Summer event, but her main focus has been to update and modernise our website, which was launched at the last ACE Quiz.

Will your strategy for ACE be different now you’re taking over as chair?

No, ACE has always been an organisation focused on fun, lively networking events for people working in the foodservice industry, and that will continue to be my focus.

Have you got any details of plans you can share?

Our aim is to reach out to the next generation of caterers, looking at holding pop-up events that cost a bit less and cover subject matter that they want to hear about. I am also going to get together a small group of post-grad students and listen to what their needs are.

What are the big issues facing the contract catering industry right now?

For many years, contract catering has been seen as the poor relation to other sectors of catering, which means it has been difficult to recruit and retain the very best staff. There has been a real skills shortage in the kitchen and front of house, but you can really see the focus that contract catering is investing into development and training through chef apprenticeships and graduate programmes.

How can ACE help the industry meet these challenges?

ACE has always supported charities that work closely in catering-related education – The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, for example, and our current charity, Beyond Food Foundation, which does amazing work giving opportunities to people that maybe have found it difficult to get on to the job ladder.

Does the wider economic picture provide cause for optimism among contract caterers right now?

Yes definitely, the economic picture is really positive. There certainly is a very buoyant feeling in the city at the moment, but that doesn’t mean customers or clients have money to waste. Everyone is looking for high quality but at a reasonable price.

Finally, what’s your ideal three-course meal?

It really does depend on the day, who I’m with and what the occasion is. There are some great pop-up markets – Dinerama near Liverpool Street is a fabulous, vibrant, buzzy destination – but if I had to choose a restaurant for my three courses, it would be Tom Sellers at Restaurant Story.

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