Nick Vadis on his career to date, the importance of chef competitions and working with the NHS
Andrew Seymour, Editorial Director for the Foodservice Equipment Journal, interviews Compass Group UK & Ireland Culinairy Director Nick Vadis about his career, chef competitions and working with the NHS, at Hotel, Restaurant & Catering (HRC) 2022.
On his early career in the Navy:
It’s a strange career because you’re going from ship to shore, ship to shore, but you treat it as if you’re moving jobs every two or three years. It gave you travel, it was never dull, and we had fantastic training facilities. The military gave me a great grounding for my career.
On International Salon Culinaire:
Competitions are one of the most important things for chefs. Chefs need to challenge themselves. You can get the excitement out of your workplace but I do think you need to pitch yourself against other chefs. It creates camaraderie. It gets you out meeting your peers. Chefs are naturally competitive people and we have to give them the avenue to flex their culinary muscles, not just in the workplace but in the theatre or on the stage.
On inspirational chefs:
The contract catering market has changed massively. I think in the past it was seen as the poor relation to a hotel or a restaurant. People want decent hours, decent money, and the money is comparable now. We’re attracting many name chefs to our business. Jason Atherton works with us, we worked with Michel Roux Jr and the whole Roux family for a number of years, and having those ambassadors on board with us can elevate some of our chefs and our chefs do stages in their restaurants.
On key trends:
We all know about the plant-based movement, and you can walk around HRC and IFE and see loads of plant-based products and I think we’ll see more of that in our business. Over 40% of our menus are plant-based or plant-forward. Everyone was saying after the pandemic that everything was going to be packaged, but people have had enough of this packaged and overly sanitised food. They want to get back into restaurants, restaurants in the city are filling up and I think we’ll go back to where we were, I don’t think it’s changed forever. We’re aware of the pandemic but food is a social thing and people want to break for lunch and go out to eat with their colleagues. We’re seeing a lot of that.
On his NHS Chef Ambassadorship:
That came about after the first lockdown. Compass Group procure food for the NHS and I was asked to start looking at the NHS chefs.
We launched the Chefs Academy, which is a training programme for NHS chefs where we get them out of hospitals and get them a day’s training. We’ve put 110 chefs through the training thus far, we’re doing 200 this year, we’re working with Phil Shelley, who wrote the Hospital Food Review, trying to lift standards and training and invest in NHS chefs.
For a lot of chefs in college, no one says ‘go and work in a hospital’, and you have to ask yourself why. It needs to be made more attractive, it needs to be made more of a career as well because you can do great things in hospitals and the food can be good and should be good.
The Hospital Food Review is going to highlight that and with Prue Leith we launched NHS Chef of the Year last year around the country and that’ll happen again this year. We’re putting the spotlight on the NHS and lifting the standard of food within hospitals, not just for patients but for staff and visitors too.
On what working with the NHS has taught him:
I’ve found it very enlightening. It’s nerve-wracking at first, my career path has been completely different to that of an NHS chef so I’ve never met these chefs in my life. Going in there and working with them, they don’t know me, I don’t know them, but there are so many stars hidden away in hospitals. There are so many good people doing great jobs day in, day out supporting the doctors, nurses and clinical staff that work in those hospitals.
I think Covid has highlighted how great our NHS is and how we need to support it and encourage and develop people into it. To me, it’s been a breath of fresh air, it’s a diversion that I wouldn’t normally have taken but it’s something I’m embracing and really enjoying and I can see it getting bigger and better. I want to get more people into the NHS and I want to see more NHS chefs competing in these competitions.
On takeaways from HRC 2022:
I think the fact that we’re almost back to normal, which is nice. It’s good to be seeing people again, this is good for business. It’s absolutely buzzing in here, I think this show is fantastic, it’s got everything: equipment, food, chefs cooking, chefs displaying, it’s the whole package. I really feel they’ve got it right. The fact that it’s going to be every year instead of two years is a big win, especially for the chef community.
On the macro challenges facing the industry:
Energy is a big issue and something we discuss with our clients. A lot of our clients pay the bill and pay for the energy and contract us in, but we advise on kitchen equipment and stuff that can keep those costs down and new innovations. We’re well aware of these issues when we work with our clients. Each client usually has a net zero target to hit and they are looking at their energy costs and if we can help in any way then we will.
We ran COP26 this year at the SEC, so all our menus had to show their carbon footprint. Everything we used from clingfilm to greaseproof paper had to have a net zero footprint. It taught us a lot and we now have a piece of software that can analyse all our recipes and provide the carbon footprint. We work very closely with Foodbuy, our procurement arm, there have been huge chances there in what we purchase and to me the positives is that we’re starting to look more local for our food, which is something that’s been really important to me for a number of years. I see it as a win-win, but it’ll be a tough journey for a lot of contractors and suppliers. Our net zero commitments are massive, and we’ve even changed our car fleet to electric as of this year.
On the future:
I think the most exciting part is attracting and retaining chefs, encouraging the chefs we have to stay with us. We’re investing massively in training; we’ve just launched the training programme with Marcus Wareing, where we’re developing our senior chefs into management.
We’ll carry on working with the and supporting them in their aspirations to attract more people into that part of the business We’ll continue working with the Chefs Academy, running NHS Chef of the Year and we’ll carry on encouraging Compass Group chefs to do these competitions and grow themselves from within.