Brighton Hospitality | Michael Bremner | 64 Degrees & Murmur
Picture credits: Andrew Hayes-Watkins
Sum up your work life right now in one sentence.
Hectic; running two restaurants is never easy at the best of times, let alone during summertime in Brighton!
What do you think is the best thing about being a chef?
Being able to do something that I’m really passionate about and enjoy. Yes the hours of a chef are hard, and it’s not always the most glamorous job, but to be able to create dishes is really exciting and now having my own restaurants where I can do the style of food that I really want is amazing. Another great thing about being a chef is you can have the opportunity to do it anywhere in the world, and often chefs will travel and work in different countries to broaden their knowledge.
When did you realise you wanted to work in hospitality?
When I was first starting out in the kitchen at the hotel near my hometown after I left school, I knew as early as then that this is what I wanted to be doing.
How and where did you train to become a chef?
My first job was at the hotel I mentioned earlier – I worked for five years here (The Pittodrie House Hotel in Aberdeenshire), and I was quite content to just carry on there, but my head chef at the time really pushed me to go and experience different places.
He said that if I really wanted to realise my potential I should move to London and work in some of the best restaurants that I could. I’m so pleased that I took his advice as I don’t think I would have achieved what I have without it. I took the opportunity to work in some really great restaurants under some amazing chefs.
Which colleague or mentor has been your biggest influence?
It has to be Bob Ovington, who was my head chef at The Pittodrie House Hotel. He was the one who really gave me a push to constantly better myself, and he was the one who persuaded me to move to London,
What has been the Michael Bremner mindset or philosophy and how has this seen your business and brand develop?
A big part of what I do in my restaurants is allow the chefs to be creative and encourage them to play around with dishes and put new things on. Obviously from a business point of view certain things will have to be reined in sometimes, but I really just want my team to enjoy what they do. Hopefully this has a knock-on effect for guests to have a really good time when they come to eat at 64 Degrees or Murmur.
If there was something in the industry you could change what would that be?
The problem I have with this is that it’s supposed to be a platform for providing feedback, but if it’s ever negative there’s no real scope for any dialogue, it’s more often than not just a scathing attack on the restaurant, or even worse, an individual staff member.
No restaurant in their business plan goes out to provide a bad experience for customers, and they should all genuinely be receptive to honest constructive criticism.
If someone were to write directly to the restaurant, or to phone up with a complaint, we take that on board and act upon in far more seriously than people writing negative comments on TripAdvisor.
It’s as though the anonymity of it means people can write snide comments, and all this achieves is to damage a reputation of a restaurant which is most likely trying its hardest to provide a nice experience for its guests.
Something else which would be nice to change is the perception of price and the understanding of what goes into the financials of running a restaurant.
It’s pretty evident based on the last couple of years, with a lot of seemingly successful restaurants and chains closing down or posting big losses, that it’s not an easy business to run.
I really want to be able to provide guests with a meal that they see as good value, but the costs involved with maintaining a restaurant, plus being committed to paying the team a fair wage, means that you can’t charge £20 per person for a three-course dinner unless you’re willing to compromise on the quality.
With costs such as business rates and VAT, the majority of any money made by an independent restaurant goes straight to the government, with very little actually being seen by the owners.
What would your best piece of advice for a graduate or trainee chef?
Don’t do it for the money!
Focus on what is important and work hard at it. Also, write everything down, even if it seems simple at the time because when you’re first starting out there’s a lot to take in and it’s easy to forget things.
What 3 qualities do you look for when recruiting chefs?
Obviously talent is one of the main things when recruiting, but I think attitude is the most important. Someone who loves what they do and is willing to graft and learn to be the best is always valued far higher than myself to someone who may be technically better but doesn’t work as hard.
The other thing I look for is presentation – it’s very important to me that people who work for me look after themselves and are presentable; especially if they’re working in an open kitchen and always on show to the guests.
When a CV is sent to you, what is it that you look for?
A good cover letter is a very good start – it’s important to see that they’ve actually thought about the specific job they’re applying for, that they know the sort of kitchen we are and what we do, and to see why they want to work for us.
Where they’ve worked in the past is obviously a good indicator of their ability, but you’ve also got to see how long they’ve stayed in each place. If you look through their employment history, it may be that they’ve worked in several amazing places, but if they’ve only lasted a month or so in each then alarm bells will start to ring. It usually means they’ve either not been up to the job or they struggle to stick around, so most likely won’t stay around in a position you offer.
What did Michael Bremner want to do when he was growing up?
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I’d like to think something artistic.
Any kitchen mistakes that have kept you awake at night and you would like to confess?
When I was working at the Orrery in London, there was a relatively new technique for pre-making soufflés prior to service (rather than making each individual one to order).
At the start of each shift I’d have to check one to make sure the batch is ok so we’d be fine for service, but one day I said that I’d checked, but actually hadn’t, and when the first soufflé was ordered that evening it didn’t rise in the oven – the whole batch was faulty.
To say I shed a tear that day is an understatement!
What’s next Michael Bremner?
Running two restaurants and raising two kids keeps me busy enough, but if the right opportunity ever comes up to do another venue then I’ll always be interested in taking a look, so watch this space…
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