Chef interview: Alan White, GB1 restaurant
Alan has been Executive Chef at The Grand Brighton for the last 14 years, something that is truly a grand achievement. As head chef of the GB1 restaurant, Alan oversees the day to day running of the restaurant and hotel food offerings, catering for up to 1500 guests a day. His career to date has been one to admire, taking his first executive chef role at the tender age of 29. Hailing from Burton on Trent, Alan took inspiration from his grandmother’s home cooking and early cooking show “Take 6 Cooks” to start his journey. Following his classical training and numerous roles across the country he eventually settled in Brighton and during his time launched the GB1 restaurant at The Grand.
Alan, you’ve been Executive Head Chef at The Grand for the last 14 years. What have been your highlights during this time?
There has been a couple. One being the opening and running of GB1 restaurant, training the team to 2 Rosette standard whilst outperforming budgeted sales. Another being consistently delivering fantastic banqueting food.
During your time at The Grand how much have you seen people’s tastes and preferences change and what do you think has influenced this?
Healthy and lighter meals, diets, the massive growth of tv chefs and cookery programmes, local produce, regional cooking influences.
Having been in the city for the last 14 years you must have seen Brighton’s food scene develop hugely. How far has it come since you first came to the city, and where do you see it going in the future?
Brighton has become a food magnet recently with many different chefs coming to town. The variety of choice is now better and the styles of eating are different, such as casual dining.
With so many new restaurants opening all the time, how do you and the team at GB1 keep pace with what is going on and adapt to the constant challenges in such a fast moving city?
Be consistent in the product offering, keep pace with food trends and continue to make food interesting.
Have you ever been tempted to move away from the hotel role and start your own independent restaurant, and if so what style would it be?
Now that would be telling! I love the diversity of working in the hotel environment, however if I was ever to go out on my own I would secure a beach café on Lancing beach where I live, using daily caught fish and local produce, simple, honest no-fuss food from great ingredients or open an old fashioned bakery in the premises opposite my house.
Could you give us an insight into the role of an Executive Head Chef, how much time do you get to spend in the kitchen or is it more of a managerial style position?
It’s about getting the balance right, office work (which there is plenty) vs. being creative and inspiring, teaching and coaching the team of 25 chefs. Different weeks and days take more of my time in some areas than others.
At 8am I place fish orders to local suppliers buying the freshest and best quality available, check on breakfast on the way through one of the kitchens at The Grand, review yesterday’s finance figures, costs and payroll, have a daily operations meeting for the day events, communicate with all kitchens, have a strategy meeting with senior management, review the productivity line with Neil my Head Chef and write menus and recipes.
I will touch base with all three kitchens at The Grand before service, working closely with key individuals on new dishes, preparation and inspire the Chefs for service, then I’ll usually stay in whichever kitchen is the busiest, until that passes. This is a typical day, but that said there really isn’t a typical day at The Grand as there are so many food elements to the business catering for so many different customer types.
Where do you like to eat out in Brighton and Hove when you are not working, or do you prefer to travel further afield?
I tend to go into London where the variety is larger, research different food trends in multi food outlets, from roof top cocktail bars to sub terrain restaurants, deli bars, cafes and brunch eateries. In London there is always something new to look at and the food landscape is forever changing.
Given the demands on you as an Executive Chef what do you like to do to unwind when you get a chance?
As I live on Shoreham beach, it’s naturally a long walk with my wife and Ray (our Boxer dog) or a good movie with my son Harvey and a home premier league game at Southampton.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in the kitchen. Is there a particular piece of advice you wished someone told you when you started out that you can pass on?
Work hard, listen to advice, focus on the detail, express yourself through the food, enjoy the flavours and experiment, have fun and meet lots of fantastic people that share your passion for food and hospitality.