Starting off his early life on the trawler – pulling in fish and avoiding bumping into TNT-filled mines before moving into waiting at the age of 17, Alex Aitken has worked in all areas of hospitality. A self-taught chef who has never worked in anyone kitchen except his own tells the story of how he achieved Michelin stars and kept up with the everchanging industry.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:05 Meeting Alex & setting the scene on the coast of Dorset, Mudeford
00:02:50 Where did the journey begin? Alex’s first involvement in food
- 00:03:48 “When I was 15, I was sent up to Scotland to take me away from the personalities I was enjoying.”
00:04:30 Starting on the trawler – sorting the fish and shooting the nets instead of going back to school
- 00:05:00 “I was earning £200 a week. Far more than I’d earn at school.”
- 00:06:47 The scary parts about being on the trawler – nearly bumping into mines and being dragged under the water
00:09:22 What you can & can’t catch, throwing fish back – the regulations behind fishing
- 00:09:59 “A lot of people say – do you only use native fish? Well no, if it’s correctly farmed we use that as well. We hate to – to protect nature stock.”
00:10:32 Getting some extra cash & finding a love of hospitality at 17
- 00:11:44 “I just love people.”
00:12:58 Hospitality and “military precision” in the industry
00:13:58 Getting into the kitchen
- 00:15:50 “I’d always teased that one day I’d open my own restaurant”
00:16:40 Buying his own cafe/restaurant in Brockenhurst, 1983 – Le Poussin
- 00:17:21 “Completely self taught. I’d never worked in another chef’s restaurant.”
00:18:11 How were the first couple of years for Alex & Caroline in the new cafe/restaurant with a new baby on the way?
- 00:19:25 “The business wasn’t bad. The new baby coming in – her doctor visited days later, Caroline in service and back at work already. The doctor is holding the baby, and I’m cooking him dinner.”
00:20:00 Alex’s obsession with getting a Michelin star – where did it come from?
- 00:20:50 “I just worked night and day. Completely loved every minute of it.”
00:20:55 Getting his first Michelin star, after trying for six years
- 00:22:04 Selling the front of his restaurant, and keeping the back during the recession
00:25:46 Talking about drinking in hospitality – and how being surrounded by alcohol can be dangerous
00:26:27 The feeling of nausea and anxiety when opening a new venue – and when being on TV!
00:28:17 Was cutting down the size of the restaurant risky financially? Was Alex making less money, or more?
00:31:00 Moving on to bigger things, expanding business
- 00:31:55 “It was 60 million. It wasn’t planned to be that – the original estimate was to be 16 million.”
00:32:32 Hunting for a simpler hotel to purchase & manage – then buying one in Brockenhurst
00:34:36 Helping out with Chalets and hotels in Courchevel
00:35:37 Was it different for Alex, working on projects in France?
00:36:28 Making big changes in 2009
- 00:38:12 “I decided to cash in my shares, retire my position and look for something else.”
00:40:12 How did Alex transform ‘Rhodes South’ into ‘The Jetty’
- 00:41:50 “I wanted it to be a popular restaurant. I wanted it to be for the locals.”
00:43:28 Alex’s involvement with the Harbour Hotels over the years
00:46:35 Why don’t hotels turn their spaces into dining rooms? What is it you need to change, to make a space into a restaurant?
- 00:47:19 “If you employ the right people, and train them to be able to pick up a customer when they walk in, and feel good, and look after them… It is that change in the personality, atmosphere – and the decor is important.”
- 00:48:52 “You don’t have to dress as a bank manager to come to dinner every night. Relax!”
00:51:03 The philosophy and growth of casual dining-
- 00:52:14 Big brands as a stepping stone
00:52:22 Talking about Alex’s reputation for fish & his opinion on what we can do to look after the ocean
- 00:57:12 “The biggest thing we do is buy too much, we don’t eat it and we waste it.”
- 00:57:20 Does Alex ever use over-seas farms?
00:59:33 Alex’s opinion on meat farming – veganism, sustainable farming etc
- 00:59:57 “I’m passionate for wild food. Fish is wild… Mushrooms, foraging, all the wild food.”
If you’re looking to learn a bit more about Alex, his fine-dining restaurant The Jetty and his amazingly inspiring and unique story – listen to the full Podcast here, or check out their website and social channels: