Have you ever thought that you and your partner might like to work in or even run a restaurant? Do you fancy yourself as a chef and your partner as front of house manager, or maybe even a pub landlord and landlady? There are many couples who do make the leap into the catering industry from many different walks of life. While some start young, and climb their way to the top, through years of hard work and ambition, others actually meet and marry within the world of hospitality.
In a series of articles looking at how couples cope working together in the food industry, dealing with the demands and vicissitudes of running an eatery, pub or hotel, The Foodie Bugle is hoping to inform and inspire those looking into the industry from the outside, by interviewing those couples on the inside, looking out.
We started with Dan Ingram and Fernanda Carvalho, the young couple at the helm of The Red Lion Pub at Cricklade, which in 2010 won the coveted Publican’s Food Pub of the Year Award. Dan and Fernanda have been Head Chef and Manager of this beloved Wiltshire institution for over two years now. Their story will bring a sharp note of realism, but, we hope, also practical advice to young people everywhere, hoping to start a career in this notably challenging sector.
The story begins 8 years ago, at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, where a 20 year old Dan, originally from Somerset, had just begun as a junior commis Chef in a very big, old fashioned hotel kitchen. Fernanda, originally from Sao Paolo in Brazil, had come over to England to learn the language, and she took up a post, eventually, front of house in the same restaurant. And so they met, and their romance soon blossomed. Fernanda is 4 years older than Dan and a Latin beauty, and her family disapproved of a non-Portuguese speaking, Anglo-Saxon boy following their daughter back to Sao Paolo, where they lived in a small apartment with Fernanda’s parents for three months.
Upon their return to Britain, Dan took up a position at the Michelin starred restaurant with rooms at 36 On the Quay in Emsworth, Hampshire. Fernanda worked front of house, as she has always done, and what followed were the most gruelling eighteen months of their lives, Dan calling it “the baptism by fire”, always mindful that every job needs a reference from a previous employer. The management structure way back then ruled through fear, and bullying and verbal abuse were part of the everyday norm, as is the case still today in many professional kitchens across the world. Through it all, Dan’s father helped the pair, giving support and advice, but after eighteen months they resigned, deciding to turn their backs on a seemingly unregulated, violent and intimidating “bubble” environment.
A chance meeting with Peter Kay, who is the founder of Hospitality Action, a charity helping people within the profession through hard times, led to the mention of a bright new chef, working in an exciting new restaurant in Berkshire. Peter suggested that here would be an ideal opportunity for Dan and Fernanda to utilise all the skills that they had learned over the years, in a much more civilised and professional working environment. The couple were convinced, and after the ensuing interviews, they accepted the positions at Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head Pub in Bray.
Suddenly Dan was thrust into an unfamiliar territory, a pub kitchen, a new culinary world that excited and challenged him. Fernanda rose through the ranks, and became Front of House Manager, working closely with both Heston and his business partner, Dominic Chapman. The relationships built during the couple’s two and a half year stint at the Hinds Head were to become the formative building blocks upon which the rest of their career trajectory was founded, and they still talk now of the politeness and consistency in which that business was run.
Dan, however, was a young, ambitious and hungry chef. Aged only 25, he had only one goal in mind, and that was to be a Chef at the 3 Michelin starred Fat Duck Restaurant, under Heston’s command, across the road. Opportunities there were not easy to get at, and continual in-house politics, manoeuvres and reshuffles meant that his ambition was never realised.
In the meantime, Fernanda was working long hours looking after the myriad of celebrity guests within the candle lit walls of the Hinds Head pub. One such celebrity offered the couple a stake in another pub that he was buying with the proceeds made out of a media deal. They were falsely lured by promises of money, security and promotion. These promises never materialised, and five months later, without a job, and without any capital or financial security behind them, they were back to looking for another job.
Temporary placements came and went; one with Marco Pierre White at Chelsea Football Club and one with Giancarlo Caldesi at Caldesi in Campagna. The spontaneity and rustic flavours of the cooking at Caldesi’s remain with Dan still, and he says that their Italian farmhouse style still influences him to this day.
A few months later they found the position they are in now, at The Red Lion in Cricklade, with a brigade of 4 in the kitchen, a large and popular pub, a separate dining room and accommodation upstairs. Dan and Fernanda love the fact that locals come in with fresh garden fruit and vegetables, herbs, wild fruit and foraged mushrooms from the fields, in exchange for beer vouchers.
In Tom Gee, the pub’s landlord, they have found a boss that offers them stability, responsibility and a sense of normality. Muddy dogs wander into the premises, they know all the regulars’ names, their suppliers are local and the team add value to all the seasonal ingredients they source. Plans for the future include a micro-brewery and a new cookery school at the back of the pub.
Through all the ups and downs, dark days, long hours, lack of money, no social life and little security to speak of, I ask Dan and Fernanda if they could turn back the hands of time, what judgements would they have made differently? They both think they were very young when they started, and maybe Dan did not have the early confidence and self-esteem that such a tough working environment requires. Dan regards his responsibilities to his young commis Chefs now in a very important light: he does not allow swearing or shouting in the kitchen, and advises young recruits that there are rewards in the profession, as there are so many “casualties” who opt out from the pressure, so that opportunities to rise and overtake within brigades are plentiful.
Above all, a deep love and respect for food is the main motivational factor for their staying in the industry, alongside a constant personal quest to drive standards upwards and winning the customers’ approval and loyalty. They cite Dan’s father, Heston Blumenthal and Dominic Chapman as three good mentors that have helped them to attain success.
Yet the glue that has held them together for 8 years, and that has led to the sparkly diamond engagement ring on Fernanda’s finger, is the fact that, through it all, they are still each other’s biggest fan. And as the pub fills and Fernanda is called away to help serve drinks, Dan’s pride at what a special, hard-working asset his fiancée is to the team is evident. One would probably not have come this far without the other.
The Red Lion
74 High Street
Wiltshire SN6 6DD