Interview with new Craft Guild chairman Matt Owens
He succeeds Andrew Bennett MBE and was previously vice chairman of the association. He unveils his ambitious plans for the term ahead.
How did you join the chef community?
It started at a very early age when I used to go to work with my dad who, at the time, was a window cleaner for several restaurants in London. We used to see the chefs arrive and prep for the day ahead. I loved watching them. From that point onwards I knew I wanted to be a chef.
After training for a professional chef’s diploma for three years at Westminster Kingsway College in London, I went on to work in a number of hotels as a pastry chef.
I am fortunate enough to have worked in some of London’s top five-star hotels including The Four Seasons Park Lane and The Waldorf Hotel. Other key positions during my career include stints at Circadia Compass, Zuidam and Major International.
How did your involvement with the Guild begin?
I’ve been involved with the organisation for 21 years. As a member, I started to support the Guild’s dinners and it grew from there. I joined the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Culinary Team and it was so exciting, especially as we had several successes around the world, including winning gold medals at both the World Cup and Culinary Olympics.
This was the starting point. I was hooked! I was then invited to join the committee by Steve Scuffell. During my early days as a committee member I was a college liaison, I also set up the Family Food Appreciation along with Mark Rigby and held various other roles within the Guild. But my aspiration was always to become chair.
Why do you want to be chair?
Well, to start with, what an honour and an accolade to achieve this. When I first joined, I liked what the Guild represented within the industry, and equally I liked where it was heading. As an organisation, it just keeps growing in the right direction and it’s really quite overwhelming to think that I am now the chair. I am very fortunate.
I know I have very big shoes to fill taking over from Andrew Bennett. His passing in January has been a huge loss. It’s been a sad time, just three days after Andrew passed away, Jane Jonson, past treasurer of the Guild passed away too. We really have had some dear losses at the start of this year. They will both always be remembered, and it’s important to me that we continue to build on the incredible work they achieved.
It was an honour to have worked alongside Andrew as vice chair for 18 months. I am also very lucky to have Mark Reynolds by my side as vice chairman, which I am thrilled about and along with the rest of the committee, I have a great team to help implement my plans as chair.
As the new chair, what are your ambitions for the role?
My first priority was to create a new strapline and a mission statement. I wanted to make it clear what the organisation stands for and what it does. I have also created four new positions on the committee which I feel, now more than ever, are needed. The first one being a wellbeing ambassador which, given what’s been happening over the last year, is critical. A young chef ambassador is another new role which is important to me.
I believe we must engage and listen to all members and I wanted to ensure this group was represented at the highest level within the organisation. The member benefits position has been created to strengthen what we deliver back to our members and a social media co-ordinator has been appointed to help bring people together to communicate and grow networks.
The digital app is also my baby and I am keen for that to grow and be a valuable tool to our members. I revamped the Culinary Academy last year and I want to ensure we have a strong culinary team that people aspire to be a part of. Our vision as a chef association, is to drive knowledge and innovation.
Bearing in mind the current landscape, how has the Guild fared over the last year?
From a Craft Guild point of view, we have achieved a lot in the last year. We have had the highest attendance to date at committee meetings with excellent engagement from senior members who have helped to look at the way the Guild is shaped for the future. That’s been valuable time spent. We also launched the app, which I mentioned earlier, and have even produced some podcasts. Who would have thought it, the Guild launching apps and producing podcasts!
In terms of competitions, we have managed to maintain them albeit in different formats. The online National Chef of the Year and The Graduate Awards were a great success and looking ahead we are excited to be hosting our awards later in the year albeit in a slightly different structure. The Guild, I believe, has really tried to stay connected with the world, the industry and our members during this difficult time. We want to keep offering them something to be proud of.
How do you think people will react to hospitality when it reopens?
I think initially when businesses reopen, it will go crazy. We will have a huge peak and it will then level out. But I think people will really make the most of hospitality and appreciate their experience. Unfortunately, we have lost many brands and restaurants due to the pandemic, but as an industry, I believe we will bounce back even stronger.
The 2021 AGM was a virtual event which can be viewed here.