Five minutes with… Arnaud Stevens

Arnaud Stevens is director and owner of Plate Catering, which supplies all food and beverage services at M by Montcalm hotel in Shoreditch, runs Plate Restaurant and Bar, Plate Bake and supplies catering services at West Wycombe shooting ground EJ Churchill.  Following a three-year chef apprenticeship with Rocco Forte Hotels Arnaud joined Gordon Ramsay Restaurants’ Maze Grill, working with Ramsay and Jason Atherton. In 2009 he joined Searcys as executive head chef of Searcys at The Royal Opera House before moving onto 30/40 at The Gherkin. He remained with Searcys for another seven years, running Restaurant Sixtyone at The Montcalm Marylebone as chef patron and then taking on the role of chef director before leaving in May 2017 to launch Plate. He talks to Hospitality & Catering News about being in charge, cutting food waste and why he wants his staff to feel like family.

Tell us about your new restaurant Plate?

Plate Restaurant and Bar is part of F&B offering we run at the M by Montcalm hotel in Shoreditch. We do breakfast, room service, afternoon tea, lunch, dinner and private dining which we call the Chef Experience. There’s a live camera feed from the private dining room into the kitchen so guests can see their dishes being prepared and we invite guests into the kitchen where they can finish off their own dishes and other guests can watch them. It encourages interaction.

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Plate restaurant is modern and eclectic and I guess you’d describe the style of food as Anglo French tapas. The whole point of the name Plate harks back to when I started as a chef and experienced chefs would say ‘don’t talk, just put it on the plate’ – they were saying all you had to do was put something on the plate to put your point across. That’s the whole meaning of what we do really, it’s all about the food on those plates and nothing else.

How are things going now you have a few months under your belt?

Amazing. Running all F&B at the hotel is a business model that works for us. We can afford to sometimes have smaller numbers in for lunch because our revenue stream via breakfast, room service and events is so strong. It means we can cap our covers for lunch and dinner which enables our restaurant team to focus on providing an amazing product, rather than having to turn tables and pack customers in to two services a day. Very few people have the opportunity to do that.

You’ve run restaurants for other people before, but this is all yours, how do you find being totally in control of the business?

It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. Since the age of 12 I wanted to be a chef. I’ve always had a passion for that, but I’ve also wanted to run my own thing, because I know how I want things to be and I know what will please people.

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I’ve always had a strong belief in how customers should be treated and welcomed and care about all kinds of details, like what kind of coffee bean I want to buy, so it’s nice to do it my way.

I love my trade and have worked with some amazing people, which I’m truly grateful for, but to finally do it myself is amazing. The one thing I do now is take nothing for granted. We might have had a great night, but it will be back to square one the next day. That’s the same for all four businesses.

You’ve also launched Plate Bake showcasing bread and pastries – what motivated you to focus on bakery?

I introduced that because I wanted my executive pastry chef – Romi Verstappen – who has worked with me for nine years, to have her own project. It’s also about showcasing our amazing bread – our marmite bread in particular. Romi’s got a lot to offer and is by far one of the best pastry chefs I’ve ever known. It was about giving something back to her. The Plate Bake brand is Romi’s as my way of thanking her.

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You’re keen to cut food waste, how are you doing it at the restaurant and why is cutting food waste so important to you?

The diversity of our business enables us to use waste so easily and efficiently, but it’s also something I feel passionate about. There are loads of areas where we spread our costs. Our sausages are made from the trim of the pork loin we serve in the restaurant and those sausages will also be used in West Wycombe when we are doing the shoot mornings.  All the bread trim from our sourdough is made into a treacle tart which is sold at Plate Bake and we also have scotch eggs on the menu at the moment, so the breadcrumbs will be used for that.

It’s about being clever with trimmings, but also respecting all ingredients. We will get a haunch of venison from the estate in West Wycombe and we’ll use that whole carcass across the business. When you put a whole deer in front of chefs they can see exactly what they can get out of it. It’s easier for them to realise that if they butcher it badly and there’s waste they’re not respecting the animal.

So sustainability is high on your agenda?

Yes. It goes right back to where we source our produce from. We’ve got a gamekeeper at the West Wycombe estate who will tell us exactly how many partridges or woodcocks he’s got and we’ll only use what he’s got available. It’s the same with our fish suppliers down in Cornwall and Devon and with our forager, who will tell us what he’s got from the land. If he says wild garlic is finished, it’s finished for us and we re-write the menu.  This way it’s not only sustainable, but you only ever get a premium product at the right time, so you’re ticking all the boxes.

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What is the biggest challenge the industry is currently facing and how can we overcome it?

Recruitment and that’s across all roles at all levels. There’s a real fear that people entering hospitality will work a long day and not get a great salary.

We have been very lucky with recruitment at Plate, but I think that’s part of our recruitment strategy. Here we offer three days off a week for any member of staff, we’ve got a very good bonus scheme and pension plan and, most importantly, we treat people with respect.

Creating a family environment in a business is super important. A lot of people think this is a vicious, shouty industry where you earn peanuts, but it’s simply not the case. I have invested in training staff, not just in things like health and safety, but in how to treat each other.  It’s important they know how to help each other and ask each other ‘are you alright?’.

Who has been biggest inspiration in your career?

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My great uncle, who worked as a charcutier and had his own business, and all the chefs I’ve worked for – Richard Corrigan, Pierre Koffmann, Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton and the Pourcel twins in Montpellier. I’ve been very lucky to be allowed into their kitchens to see what they did first hand. Gary Rhodes was also a massive inspiration. He’s a lovely guy who was tough but one of the most organised. At City Rhodes the kitchen was like a machine. Right now I’m hugely inspired by Danny Meyer in New York. Listening to him talk and reading his books about how he understands hospitality and how important it, is fascinating.

What does the future hold for Plate and you?

I’m about to sign a fifth contract in the City of London. I can’t say anymore at the moment, but it’s a really exciting project. Then in April we’ll be signing our sixth business, which will be in the West End. We’re very conscious of not growing too quickly and once we get the contract sorted for April that will be us. The future then will be about making those businesses strong and airtight and ensuring they give the best for our customers.

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