Can a Michelin-starred chef make the grade as a waiter?

Tim Allen traded his whites for his best suit for a taste of life front of house. Gillian Orr finds our how he fared

For staff who are used to ­seeing their boss in the rather casual attire of chef’s whites and an apron, you might think that having him turn up to work in a suit and tie, looking the business, might put everyone on edge. Instead the waiters at Launceston Place merely snigger when the head chef, Tim Allen, arrives at the restaurant dressed as one of them.

“You look like you’re going to a wedding!” exclaims one. “You definitely look a lot less scary. I can’t believe it’s the same man,” offers another.

Allen is a Michelin-starred chef whose restaurant in London’s South Kensington specialises in “great British classics enhanced with an elegant and flamboyant style of cooking”. Here you’ll find Ibérico pork served with heritage tomatoes, broad beans and pan tomàquet with a dried fig reduction alongside English veal with barbequed cauliflower and Madeira jus infused with capers. It is polished food, and the high level of service reflects that.

But this evening, instead of sweating it in the kitchen, Allen has accepted a challenge to work on the floor as a waiter. How does he think he’ll fare? “It’s going to be like something out of Fawlty Towers,” he deadpans. “Nah, but I’m slightly apprehensive. I just want to be natural and relaxed. There’s an art to working out front. I couldn’t do it.”

There’s a sort of reverse upstairs/downstairs thing going on at Launceston Place, whereby the kitchen is in the basement, yet, arguably, in the restaurant hierarchy of power, the kitchen sits at the top. In various waiting jobs that I’ve had in the past, it always seemed to feel that way. I would approach the kitchen with caution, unsure what sort of mood the chefs might be in. I recall some of the biggest dressing downs I’ve ever received taking place over some condiments.

However, Allen is quick to disagree that the kitchen and the floor exist as two separate entities. “In the kitchen you’re not in the public eye. It’s a completely different set of circumstances to be in but you’ve got to work as a team. One thing that is difficult is that we’re downstairs and they’re upstairs; it’s amazing what a barrier that creates mentally. Communication is key, but if someone comes down for a bit of chit-chat when we’re busy then it’s like, ‘what are you doing here?’”

In truth, Allen clearly has a great working relationship with the waiting staff. He says that they don’t get much time to socialise together because of the demands of the restaurant but he will sometimes go for a pint with them. This week he’s meeting one of them for a game of golf. Not quite the devil wears chef’s whites, then. But does he ever lose his temper with the staff?

“Yeah, of course I do. I’m a chef. I don’t know any who don’t. But it’s the little things that piss me off. Just stupid things like delivering the amuse bouche to the wrong table. Or if the two first tables of the evening are sat right next to each other, stuff like that. It’s just schoolboy errors.”

As the first guests arrive, Allen makes no such mistakes, ensuring there is ample space between the two parties. He is polite and calm, taking them through the menu (at least he knows about that), although he does appear a little nervous and is quick to check with the other waiters that he has done everything correctly. But he looks like he’s enjoying chatting with the customers. It must be nice to get the opportunity to see diners arrive, all excited for a night out at a place whose reputation is largely based on his cooking. 

So what does he think makes a good waiter? “Personality; every day of the week. Being easygoing, relaxed but confident at the same time. Some of our staff are multi-lingual, too, which in London is a massive help.”

When it’s time to collect the first food order from the kitchen, Allen sort of grimaces. I ask if he’s worried about seeing his team. “They’re just going to take the piss!” he laughs. As he walks in the kitchen the other chefs immediately start doing just that.

“Table five, NOW!” one of them mock-orders, handing over a plate. Allen merely rolls his eyes. I ask him if he has any horror stories involving waiters; he lets out a huge guffaw. “Yes! The most obvious is people pouring things on customers by accident but at a place I worked at up north a few years ago, one of the staff fell out with the boss. He quit but on his way out the door he went through the restaurant stopping at every table to tell the guests how awful the boss was. The restaurant was full.” 

The evening continues without a hitch; in fact he is the consummate professional. So has he enjoyed his time out of the kitchen? “Yeah, I mean, I like looking after people. When I cook the food you don’t get to see people enjoy it. It’s nice being able to do that. That’s the reward you get working on the floor; that you’ve made someone’s evening a bit special. The waiting staff aren’t robots here to put plates down on tables. They’re here to give a bit of themselves to the guests as well. I think that’s the trick. Less formality, more personality.” And with that he’s off to check on things downstairs. You can take the chef out of the kitchen…

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee