I’ve addictively watched enough MasterChef series to build up a healthy respect for anyone who becomes a chef, often cooking for huge numbers of people in the highly pressurised world of a kitchen, every day of the week. Kudos!
But then there’s Richard Manzano…
Great British Care Awards South East regional winner for Care Home Cook/Chef of the year at Portobello Place, (part of the Berkley Group) in Chesham, Richard is in a league of his own: not only does he cook every day for all the the residents and staff while personalising and tailoring to the myriad dietary requirements, but he came up with the idea of The Chef’s Table:
“Well, one of the things we do here is weigh our residents every month so anyone losing weight will get more attention with, for example, highly calorific smoothies etc, but for those who are really off, I send an invitation and we have two or three people at a time. So once all the hot trolleys have gone out at lunchtime, we set a table up with white linen, glasses and flowers and they come into the kitchen and I cook for them. My wife, our pastry chef, sits with them too and we talk and encourage and have fun together. I care about them. We all care about them.”
Richard invites them in the same way that we would invite friends over for dinner in our homes. And when they leave the kitchen, Richard and his wife give them each a goody bag with chocolate brownies or biscuits with their initials on. It’s exemplary attention to detail given that he is daily plating breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper for 33 residents plus all the staff!
I can tell barely ten minutes into our interview that there’s real ‘heft’ to Richard and it starts to make sense when he lets slip that he was once President of the British Masterchef Society and has been a judge for international competitions. And if that’s not impressive enough, he has cooked for a slew of celebrities and royalty…even cooking at Sandringham a few times!
Of Spanish heritage and classically French trained, how does Richard feel about his career?
“I have been in catering all my life! My parents had their own restaurant and I grew up in a casino in London because my father was executive chef there and from the early age of 11 or 12, I used to go and have a look and help out. Then I did an apprenticeship at the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly for over three years plus Westminster College and Uni before working with the family. Eventually, my wife and I worked for ourselves for 15 years and had a Fine Dining restaurant then went into outside catering. After a break, I needed to get back into the workplace and found myself here commissioning a few of the group’s new homes, setting up the kitchens, equipment and training.”
For some people it’s just innate, isn’t it…that hospitality gene running right through their bones. (Interesting point: had he not become a chef, Richard wanted to be an archaeologist!)
“Yes, it’s in my blood,” he laughs. “I love catering and being hospitable with people, looking after them…being with them. You give yourself to them and it’s very rewarding. We’re a family. I don’t come to work to cook for people and then go home – for me I don’t have that philosophy. My psyche is about family and these residents are my family.”
Richard is a father and now a grandfather and like the rest of us has no idea what the future holds but he loves going to work every day and making a difference and his award is a fantastic validation of that.
So, to quote the film…how does he feel about hospitality?
“It’s a wonderful life!”