Q&A Interview with David Summerell, Executive Chef at The Royal College of Physicians, London
David Summerell has recently won the coveted "Banqueting and Event Chef" title at the Craft Guild of Chef Awards. We interviewed him to find out a little more about what this means and the work that he does at London's Royal College of Physicians...
PP: David, Congratulation on your recent award ï¿½Banqueting and Event Chefï¿½ in this yearï¿½s Craft Guild of Chef Awards. Needless to say itï¿½s a pretty big accolade. What led to this point in your career and is this a prize youï¿½ve wanted to win for a while? Was it a surprise?
DS: This was the first time weï¿½d entered. My team and I are very proud of what we achieve at the Royal College of Physicians across all its many activities, and I thought it would be good to have our achievements recognised at this very significant level ï¿½ the Craft Guild awards are in effect the ï¿½Oscarsï¿½ of the culinary world. I felt we had a strong entry and every chance, but competition was very strong and it was still a pleasant surprise to win.
PP: Tell us about your work at RCP, What made you want to become an Event Chef?
DS: My work at the RCP covers an enormously varied range of requirements. As well as being on of the UKï¿½s top events venues, it is also Englandï¿½s oldest medical institution, and we have to serve the demands of both activities. My team provides a comprehensive spectrum of catering services to support the Events activity, including gala dinners, fine dining, conference luncheons, banquets, barbecues, canapï¿½ and wedding receptions and other celebratory events.
We also provide catering support for a wide range of significant national and international events for medical professionals, including lectures, dinners, banquets, formal ceremonies, meetings and seminars. On average, The RCPï¿½s kitchens provide for more than 3000 covers every week.
Itï¿½s that variety of work which makes it so fascinating and rewarding. On a day to day basis I am responsible for the overall food production, involving purchasing, quality control, supervising a brigade of chefs and liaising with Event Managers, Operational staff and Clients. I am also involved in our fine dining for VIP guests and oversee this personally. Strategic planning is also one of my responsibilities as we need to stay up to date with current trends and develop our product accordingly.
Planning and organising is something that Iï¿½ve always really enjoyed, as well as the actual execution of well presented and balanced dinners and events. I enjoyed the logistics of event catering and so it was a natural progression of my 30 years cooking experience.
PP: Youï¿½ve been with the College for 11 years which is a long time in one place in the catering industry, tell us about the allure that RCP has for you and how you remain motivated
DS: The College is truly unique and I continue to feel proud to work for this magnificent establishment, which continues to inspire me with its rich history, but also itï¿½s modern outlook and forward thinking. The autonomy, diversity of staff and food we are asked to prepare makes each day different. I am given plenty of scope to express my culinary ideas and feel continually challenged.
PP: You must get to work with a lot of varied clients, do you have unusual culinary requests often?
DS: Among the various unusual requests, we have catered for the Digestive Disorders Foundation conference with success. My wife has also recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and so I am very mindful of the sensitivities of people with special dietary requirements.
PP: Any memorable events you can tell us about?
DS: We recently commemorated the 350th anniversary of Sir Hans Sloane, who was a former College President, and is also credited with being the first person to bring the coco bean to the UK, making a milk chocolate drink and subsequently selling the rights to Cadburys. We re-created a 17th Century banquet, using a menu researched by the Collegeï¿½s archivist. The food was selected and prepared using precisely the methods, styles and ingredients from that menu. I managed to borrow a 18th Century Turbot kettle, which made an interesting and authentic centrepiece.
PP: You previously worked at The Savoy, The Dorchester and other top hotels.. Is there a big difference between the hotel catering world and creating banquets for event clients?
DS: Not really, because like a hotel or any distinguished venue you have to create an impact, impression and a memory for your clients, which we aspire to do here at the College.
PP: What sort of exciting cuisine can guests holding an event at RCP expect:
DS: Everything from a bespoke butler serviced private dining event in our 17th Century dining room, with silver and crystal, to informal al fresco dining and barbecues in our medicinal garden and back again.
PP: Do clients get a chance to be hands-on with menu creation or is that a Chefï¿½s prerogative?
DS: We are happy to discuss and assist with menu choices and planning. We are also happy to provide a bespoke tailored menu to suit each individual event or requirement.
PP: You have access to a wonderful facility in the shape of the medicinal garden at the RCP ï¿½ do you get to grow / use many on-site ingredients?
DS: Wherever we can, we do make use of herbs and plants from the garden such as mint and edible flowers for instance. I ought to add that the garden is a very popular location for outdoor receptions and barbecues, and our Garden Fellow regularly gives tours pointing out, amongst other interesting items, a wide range of historic culinary herbs and spices
PP: People seem increasingly conscientious of local, seasonal and sustainable produce, does your work at RCP incorporate these elements and how do you meet these requirements?
DS: Where do I begin? We spend a lot of time talking with our suppliers to ensure seasonal, sustainable products and packaging are used. We want to support local suppliers and British producers where possible; we source local (British) and organic / fair trade products, such as our cheeses, which are all British. We also bottle our own water, we have a wormery in our garden and for the last three years weï¿½ve been re-cycling through a specialist company ï¿½ a large percentage of waste from our kitchen is re-cycled. We are ISO accredited and have regular rigorous audits and adhere to the College sustainability policy. We also have a Gold standard in the Sustainability Code of IACC, the global conference centre organisation.
PP: Finally, any advice for budding chefs out there, a word of advice about the event catering business perhaps?
DS: Gaining experience at different operations, within different environments is paramount to your future success. Flexibility is a key attribute and broadens your culinary scope and employment potential.
PP: Thank you!