Full name: Alan White
Role: Executive Chef at The Grand Brighton and Seafood Restaurant GB1.
Birthplace: Burton Upon Trent
Fun Fact: Alan’s cooked for an array of celebrities including, Robbie Williams, Princess Anne, Barcelona Football Club, Paul Gascoigne and Tony Blair whilst he was in Brighton for the Labour Party Conference.
So, let’s start at the beginning – you’re the perfect example of a man who has ‘made it’ as a chef, so it’d be interesting to try and understand your roots and how you got to today… Did you always know that you were a ‘foodie’? You were inspired by a TV show called Take 6 Cooks, and your grandmother’s cooking, right? Could you give us a little synopsis of your career up to now?
I always wanted to be a chef since the age of 13. I was inspired by the first cookery programmes in the 1980’s called Take 6 Cooks. All the classically trained chefs were on – the likes of Pierre Koffmann. I remember watching it as a teenager, thinking that’s what I want to do. It was very inspiring.
After watching that I decided to take cookery as part of my options at school. I was the only boy in the class. I started my career at The Forest of Arden Country Club in the Midlands. I was still training at catering college at the time, but worked there at the weekend. I did a colleague placement down in Brighton over a two-week period. It was the first time I was away from home. There was a real party atmosphere.
Could you give us a little synopsis of your career up to now?
I have been a chef for 32 years after starting at the Forest of Arden Country Club in the Midlands where I was still training at catering college. I am now Executive Chef at Brighton’s seafood restaurant, GB1 within The Grand Brighton. I have worked in hotels and restaurants throughout my career, including The Midland Manchester, Selsdon Park, London and the St.Pierre Park Guernsey.
I have also worked with Castle Kitchens, a catering operation that offers private aviation customers extraordinary restaurant style cuisine – that has been redesigned for the cabin at 60,000 feet. It was here that I implemented a production kitchen, cooking over 3,000 portions of food twice a week for the retail sector, Waitrose and also designed 21 dietary and special meals for Quantas Airlines.
I have been lucky enough to cook for a lot of the movers and shakers of the world and many celebrities, including Robbie Williams, Princess Anne, Barcelona Football Club, Paul Gascoigne and I cooked for Tony Blair whilst he was in Brighton for the Labour Party Conference.
At some point you did a stint at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. I used to go past there every day on my way to school so I’m curious to know what that was like and what you did there?
It was a busy but exciting role as it was my very first Executive Chef role at the tender age of 29 years old! It was at that time in my life that I was able to tell my dad that I had made it as a chef. Whilst I was the Executive Chef there for five years we were awarded two Rosettes for the 400 cover restaurant in the 4* star deluxe hotel, which was only one out of ten in the UK at the time.
I was an Executive Chef for a 205 bedroom hotel with 27 conference rooms, full leisure, 10 conference suites, 24 chefs and 12 kitchen porters, making me responsible for 36 people at the age of 29.
Leading on from above, please tell us a little about what you’re doing now at The Grand Brighton? Been looking at the pictures of the food and it all looks splendid…
Since the launch of GB1, there has been a buzz from opening a new restaurant. When it came to GB1 we started with a blank canvas, which was a fantastic opportunity in terms of creativity. After lots of challenges, planning and training the finished product is very impressive. We saw a gap in the market that needed exploiting.
We have recently obtained two Rosettes for GB1 and following on from the BDRC we are trying to future proof the customer needs. We have recently introduced a superfoods cart into breakfast, followed by brunch menu for the Victoria Terrace and we’re adding in a F&B offering of indulgence into the spa.
Spring will bring a revisit to the Afternoon Tea and the banqueting menus will be refreshed for 2018. Our 2017 Christmas menus are already done – ahead of the game!
In your very professional opinion, what are the most underrated and overrated ingredients?
The most overrated ingredient would have to be truffle because it is so expensive as it is very rare but it is not necessarily the tastiest ingredient. It definitely adds luxury rather than substance.
In my opinion the most underrated ingredient is offal. Meat offal and fish offal is so underrated but it is fantastic, for example cod on toast with vegetables and Bloody Mary ketchup is amazing.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into life at The Grand Brighton? You’ve been there for over a decade now?
On an average day I speak to the fish monger every morning to discuss the fish morning landings and to secure our procurement for the mid-morning delivery, which enables us to ensure that our fish is at its freshest for that day. I then touch base with all chefs in the kitchen, attend the operational daily hotel dash meeting and then there is normally a menu taster that I need to oversee before executing new challenging dishes for the menus.
I normally write two or three new menus a day. On top of that I have briefings with all of the chefs, taste the staff food, check the Afternoon Tea service and construct catch of the day dishes in GB1. My main focus is to oversee the function of the kitchen.
Who would cook your Death Row meal, and what would you ask for (3 courses, please)?
I would like every chef that I have ever employed to cook my Death Row meal for me. For a starter it would definitely be Lobster Risotto, main would be the classic Sausage, Mash and Cheesy Beans and finish off with Lemon Meringue pie for dessert.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Winning ‘Chef of the Year’ award in 1996 at the Inter Channel Islands in Guernsey where I won six medals, consisting of bronze, silver and gold.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from research, eating out, keeping an eye on upcoming food trends and of course my personal preference. Inspiration can come from anywhere, from a baker to a butchers, to a fine dining meal at a Michelin star restaurant or simply around a friend’s house for dinner.
What’s your philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Deliver quality and simplicity, offering a fantastic choice of the finest ingredients, along with passion and dedication for classic English cuisine and contemporary touches.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge is continually having to achieve and maintain consistent high quality standards every single day. That’s it.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences? (repeat from earlier question)
I would say on a personal level it would be my Grandmother. I remember as a child she would always be in the kitchen cooking up the old school recipes – Pot roast chicken, faggots, beef in brine. Simple dishes that were well cooked and always tasted great. Professionally though, I would say the early Marco Pierre White, the Roux brothers, Raymond Blanc. I am classically trained too, so they were a big influence.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Guest satisfaction is what I enjoy the most about my job as I love knowing that someone has enjoyed what I have cooked for them. It can be as simple as delivering soup or a sandwich for the canteen to catering for a function of 500 people, as I get the same satisfaction from whoever I am cooking for.
Knowing that the 1,500 people or so that I have fed that day are happy, makes me feel as though my job is done and that I can go home. The least enjoyable part of my job is the paperwork – I don’t get any satisfaction from it.
What advice would you give to aspiring professional chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
1. Take risks and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward as making mistakes is a great way to learn.
2. Be persistent and knock on doors until someone gives you an opportunity to show your passion and commitment.
3. Staying loyal to a chef you like for a minimum of three years will mean you can really learn a lot – and it will look good on your CV.
4. Visualise where you want to be and dream big.
5. Be interested in what you are doing, even if it’s picking hundreds of individual spinach leaves, as this attitude will be noticed.
If you could get anyone to try your cooking (fictional or real, living or dead) or would you pick and which of the dishes would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
I would invite all of my family tree to try my cooking as it would be interesting to see what their generations have become and for them to try my cooking. I would either cook them monkfish from the lunch menu or scallops off the á la carte menu for starter, sea bass off the GB1 menu for main because it’s a great dish and chocolate fondant for dessert.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for your career? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
I would buy the hotel, close it and live in it.
Where next for you?
I came to The Grand Brighton with a five year plan and I had my sights set on Dubai. So maybe that’s still on the horizon, but I’m really lucky to have this job here, and to have held it for 12 years. I have appraisals with Andrew Mosley (General Manager of The Grand Brighton Hotel) who is a great advocate of freedom to express yourself, and tries to find out what it is that excites you. It’s hard to leave!
We always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you had to have any character from Egyptian mythology come and work in your kitchen, who would you employ and why?
I would recruit The God of Creation ‘Ptah’ who is responsible for creation of the earth, world and universe, to bring creativity to the team which will support all of the chefs to think beyond their parameters.
If your restaurant was forced to change from purveyor of delicious foods into a martial arts dojo, what style would you guys teach and what music would you play in your gym to get people fired up?
We would teach Kung Fu as I used to love that cartoon where he jumps into the filing cabinet and comes out as somebody completely different! We would play Meat Loaf ‘Bat Out of Hell’ which would start off slowly and continue to build up and up – it would create a great atmosphere.
You have acquired a pet dragon and are morally obliged to look after it. It is 25 ft tall at the hips, spits fire, eats half a ton of raw meat a day, and likes long walks. What would you call it and what would you do to keep it entertained and housed?
I would love a pet dragon. His name would be Snap and we’d play the game Twister to keep him entertained. I would regularly feed Snap Kit Kats because they’re nice – that’s all.