“Hello, hello, sorry, I’m running late!” , chef, restaurateur and philanthropist says, as he dashes into the private dining room of his Pollen Street Social restaurant in London’s Mayfair. could be forgiven for arriving a few minutes late. Not just because he’s so apologetic, but you could say he has a lot on his plate right now. In addition to the 14 restaurants he already has, has five new restaurants set to open around the world this year (New York, Sydney, Dubai and two in London), plus more next year, and he has just taken up the role as the face of the FOUR Foundation. Fresh off a flight from New York, was about to star in his first FOUR Foundation campaign video and I managed to grab an interview with him afterwards.
You’ve just become the FOUR Foundation Ambassador and the charity you chose to support, along with War Child, Drop4Drop and The Environmental Justice Foundation, is Hospitality Action. Why did you choose this charity?
Fine dining restaurants tend not to get too involved with charities because they’re all so busy; busy trying to be the best that they can be, chasing Michelin stars and a place on The World’s Best Restaurant list and so on. Chefs of that calibre tend to struggle when it comes to offering up their spare time, but it was really important for me to lead by example, and there was no better charity for me than Hospitality Action, to work with a charity that supports our industry. There are lots of other charities out there, but we always seem to overlook our own industry, and it’s a really tough industry to work and succeed in. I can relate to the charity and I just feel that if we can make it a better industry to work in, not just by giving people money, but by putting pressure on the work processes to make it a better industry (for those that work in it), it can only get better, right?
The charity approached me a few years ago to be on their board of directors, to which I agreed, and now I’m also a trustee for the charity. There are 10 of us who are trustees who work to protect the legacy of the charity, if you like.
Tell me about some of the events you’ve worked on and plan to hold with Hospitality Action?
We’re starting our own event, which will take place once a year, called Hospitality Action Sunday. We will be asking high profile chefs to give up their restaurant, donate it for just one day [on] a Sunday, which many restaurants close on anyway. We’ll cook, raise some money and have some fun at the same time! It’s quite simple really!
Why is it important for you to give back and work with charities?
I started to realise that as my stature grew, it was important to use that to help others. I know that sounds clichéd, but that’s the case with me. The industry has given me so much. I came to London with five pounds in my pocket, stayed in a youth hostel near Earl’s Court and I worked hard and worked my way up through the industry. It has given me a life, which is way beyond my wildest imagination, why would I not want to help others? It would just be crazy not to. And it would be selfish not to, right?
What projects are you working on at the moment for Hospitality Action?
I’ve just filmed a video for them with three others chefs: Tom Kerridge, Angela Hartnett and Raymond Blanc. Each chef plays a different role, I’m [playing] a drug abuser and alcoholic, Angela Hartnett is [playing] a victim of domestic violence, and so on. Each chef plays a role that highlights these scenarios in the film. A lot of top chefs have got involved because chefs, particularly the high profiles ones, are looked up to and respected.
You are clearly committed to your charity work, but your business is constantly expanding with new restaurants all around the world. How do you juggle it all?
Through good leadership and through the art of delegation—you have to master very quickly how to make it work if you want to be in multiple sites. And just the passion that goes into everything—our company is just crazy about hospitality and getting things right and that, for me, is what it’s about. Even though we’re doing all of this stuff, we’re launching a new menu here at Pollen Street, and this [Pollen Street Social] will always be the darling of my life—it’s my second wife, it’s my everything!
How does your actual wife, Irha, feel about your ‘second wife’?
She gets it, you know, this is us. She runs the head office and she’s very instrumental in everything we do and every time we open a new business, my wife has to have a say if we are going to go for it and do it, because it affects her and it affects her life balance. [The way we work] creates that bedrock and stability as a family.
Read more about Jason’s many projects later this week in the second part of this interview.
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‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,’ Winston Churchill.