RiverTribe Editor Linda Duberley meets Chef Proprietor at Teddington’s The Wharf, Ray Neve, whose creativity is matched by his commercial drive.
We live in an age when businesses come and go almost as fast as you can say bottom line.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the restaurant trade where fortunes that could turn on a dime, don’t. They come, they go. Big names, small names. One minute they are pulling in the customers, the next they are on the chopping block.
So, it is a joy to hear about Teddington’s Ray Neve, a man whose business has survived and prospered over an 18-year period and whose career began more than four decades ago at the Dorchester and the Ritz in Paris.
How has he done this in a climate where many other restaurants find the current trading conditions unpalatable to say the least. What is his recipe for success?
Neve puts it down to an expression, apparently well-known in the restaurant trade, which goes like this. Prior Pre-Planning Prevents P*** Poor Presentation.
Under-pining that golden rule are the principles of organisation, producing a bespoke offering and solid team-work.
“It is a well-known fact that creative people sometimes do not make the best business people. I have been lucky to have had some very sharp investment people support and advise me. Crucially, they have been able to drive forward my business acumen,” he told me as we sat – out of harm’s way – watching preparations for a wedding of 120.
“Many years ago, my mentor Anton Mosimann, advised me to always surround myself with the best people. It is a rule that has served me well. I run a tight ship, I don’t expect bad language from my team and I run a calm kitchen.
“I need to drive the Wharf forward every day. I question what we are doing every day. I keep standards high but I always see the need to change.”
Which is why, at the start of the summer, Tom Cooney from Roast at Borough Market joined as Chef. Here is a man who knows his stuffed onions. Cooney comes to the Wharf with an exceptional track record for diligence, creativity and management skills – someone who reads old English recipe books in what little spare time he has.
“We are doing the best British and European food. We create some great plates of food here using the best local suppliers. Our ingredients have provenance.”
Sure enough the Wharf uses Sandy’s Fish Shop, Robson’s the Butcher on Hampton Hill and the Teddington Cheese Shop. They also keep a weather eye on what is available at Borough Market.
Neve estimates that two thirds of his business is general dining and the remaining one third private events, mainly weddings. Every year at Kingston Regatta he delivers a charity lunch for 500 people at 50 tables which means providing refrigeration, stoves and electronic bookings.
He tells one story which is the ultimate in re-assurance for anyone who wants to take a close look at his combined organisational and quality-assurance skills.
On a single day, when he was Group Executive Chef to Anton Mosimann, he delivered lunch for 300 – including key members of the Royal Family – at a charity polo match at Ash Park, followed by a cocktail reception for 280 which was running alongside a private dinner for 14 being hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Booth.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.