For Steve Munkley, 44-year-old executive chef at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, no single day is the same just as no single patron is the same. Splitting his time between the Tenth Restaurant, the Park Terrace brasserie and twelve banqueting rooms, Steve is always kept on his toes trying to balance between managing his staff and cooking himself.
'I'm running a five-star hotel with 56 cooks so my role is very much in leadership,' says Steve, 'but at the end of the day I classify myself as a cook, that's where my passion is.'
That passion for cooking goes beyond the kitchen and into the dining areas and even universities and the local economy. Steve makes himself visible to his patrons throughout the day as he walks around making sure everything is running smoothly. In fact, before his regular and most memorable diners even enter the hotel, Steve makes sure the kitchen is stocked with ingredients needed for their favourite dishes.
As far as the university setting, Steve provides his services by giving demonstrations, master classes and seminars, as well as bringing students from the classroom into the kitchens at the Royal Garden . By using students in the hotel, Steve is giving them the ultimate demonstration in variety and work experience.
'It brings lots of different facets together and gives additional training for the staff so that they too can learn different disciplines within our industry and I can find what they're best at,' he points out.
Steve's support of the local economy comes from his desire to use local suppliers as much as he can, specifically for his produce and meat. By using local suppliers Steve says he's able to check the conditions of the livestock he uses. For instance, he can see what a farmer is feeding his pigs in Norfolk . Steve incorporates local produce in his menu: his entire cuisine is his own variation of British meals. His traditional dishes such as steak and kidney pudding and Shepherd's pie are made lighter. He says he does this 'because traditional British cuisine is a bit stodgy. It goes back to workers, families fed families well, it goes back to manual labour.' By putting a modern twist on the menu Steve created a menu more appealing for today's diners, who are typically not heavy manual labourers .
After all, with many of his patrons coming from countries all over the world, Steve's food needs to appeal to a wider range of people and represent the best of what Britain has to offer. He says that the restaurant gets a mix of people, from businessmen to jet setters to ladies who lunch. And even though The Tenth is located in the hotel, most of the patrons are not guests. The Tenth has even become a destination in itself, as customers come to the hotel to eat and see the view. It overlooks a portion of Kensington Gardens where such London landmarks as the London Eye and Royal Albert Hall can be seen.
And while the restaurant caters to the regular diners, it also offers an excellent venue for banquets and conferences. In fact, Steve was the winner of the Banqueting Chef of the Year in 1999. The judges are not the only people who praise his banqueting ability, but others in the industry do as well. Last year hosting the Chef of the Year awards, compliments came back to Steve from the industry members present, who said he had 'cooked better for the 400-person event than some of the contestants did for four.' However, Steve attributes much of his success to the hotel's facilities, describing cookware such as ovens that are able to cook 400 chicken soufflés in 15 minutes
Steve acknowledges his skill for banquets and conferences but also says they are the most profitable for the hotel. Therefore, Steve's main focus recently has been putting on events. Steve says he has witnessed a change in the format of conferences in the last 10 to 12 years, a difference that includes certain technologies such as a wireless network and video conferencing, which are both available at the hotel. Another difference is the more conference savvy concept.'They want something with a twist, something different. They're very much more into networking lunches rather than sitting down with a glass of wine,' says Steve.
The other big source of income for the restaurant is breakfast, with the Royal Garden having a potential clientele of 700 people and a possible 70 percent eating breakfast. Steve understands that it's not only a meal vital to the hotel but also to the residents.
'It's important to me people leave this building with a good breakfast so they can come back,' he says. 'You might have had a wonderful stay and everything is wonderful, but if you get a lousy breakfast you're going to go away thinking bad things.'
Steve exudes that sort of care for all his meals. He says he doesn't feel comfortable leaving in the evenings unless he knows the evening shift is set for the night. And after his long day, leaving at 9:30 p.m. what does this award-winning chef have for dinner himself?
'A bowl of pasta,' he says with a smile.