Adapting Nobu to Shoreditch a nuanced challenge: Julian Catzeflis [Video]

by | Mar 31, 2019 | Experts

Nobu Hotel Shoreditch’s Director of Food & Beverage Catzeflis spoke exclusively to TOPHOTELNEWS about Nobu’s challenges in adapting to Shoreditch and his life-changing experience of serving Lady Diana in a Kensington restaurant.

Passion for hospitality started very early for Julian Catzeflis.

Having always been driven by detail and looking after people, Catzeflis was constantly amazed at what restaurants could do and the passion food is served with. From a young age, he knew what he wanted to be a part of.

Catzeflis started his career as a chef and loved every minute of it. By chance, he was  asked to do a shift supporting the floor at Launceston Place Restaurant in London Kensington and was amazed that his first table was none other than Lady Diana.

On her next visit, her aide requested that Catzeflis look after her. He never did another shift in the kitchen.

Front of house combined Catzeflis’ love of food and service. He found his place and never looked back.

Catzeflis’ career has taken him through some wonderful restaurants such as Conran Restaurant, Rules Restaurant, Roka, Zuma and now Nobu Hotel Shoreditch.

On the sidelines of TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR London at the Nobu Hotel Shoreditch on Feb 7, 2019, Catzeflis spoke exclusively to TOPHOTELNEWS about Nobu’s nuanced challenges in adapting to Shoreditch and how working in the hotel environment as an F&B director has been a hugely challenging experience.

Extending Nobu’s core F&B passion and philosophy into hotels

Catzeflis: The core DNA of what this company is, essentially, one man’s passion. If you think about Japan and where Nobu San was a young man it was very rare that someone would leave Japan and go on travels as he did. He was hugely passionate about what he did and, essentially, the core of his passion is the kokoro which comes from the heart, the Japanese word for heart. The expansion into the hotel group really has just been an extension of that call and to essentially make it a lifestyle brand.

The biggest challenge we find is, and I talk about my experience here at Shoreditch, we’re a Nobu restaurant within a Nobu hotel. But the area and the public understand that there is a restaurant within the hotel and that we are at the same level as of the other restaurants has been our biggest challenge.

Now we’re very lucky. We have an amazing product and our recipes are very solid. There’s a core of our menu which is the same in every single location across 50 restaurants globally and that’s what we lean on. That’s our bread and butter, if you like.

Nuanced challenges of adapting Nobu to Shoreditch

Catzeflis: The nuance, the challenge comes around that in our breakfast menus, in our in-room dining service, and making us unique to the area are our biggest challenges. How have we done that? We look at what the area does, we humble ourselves in everything that we do and try and be authentic.

Authenticity for me comes from, it’s not something that you can create. It comes from the core of what we do and essentially that’s what makes us successful and also enables us to make change and incorporate us into the area.

During our opening, we relied too much on the success of the Nobu restaurant and we’ve realized that being in Shoreditch that we’ve had to adapt, that we’ve had to make our pricing better for the area that we’ve had to have dishes on our menu that are more approachable. Even how our waiters approach the table and how they speak with guests, how we take reservations, all the details have had to be looked at to ensure that it’s not a given that we’re going to just open and be successful. And that’s really where we’ve had to adapt ourselves most from our opening.

Turning a childhood passion into a profession

Catzeflis: I started in this industry because of my love of food. From a young age, I was cooking. Both my parents were working through my childhood and I used to come home from school and cook. And it’s something I did; it was never a chore. Even to this day, on my days off, I spend it in markets. My wife doesn’t cook a huge amount. I am the one that cooks at home.

My father gave me an opportunity via a friend to do some time in the kitchen and I just found my passion. I found while working in hospitality that I had all the drive, the energy and the passion. I value my experience in the kitchen so much because it not only made me understand a very strong work ethic but helped me translate a passion onto a plate. Developing the technical skills to be able to deliver that is something that I’m truly thankful for to this day.

Life-changing experience of serving Lady Diana – twice!

Catzeflis: I ended up working in a restaurant called Launceston Place which is in Kensington. I was working in the kitchen as a commis chef. They were very short staffed in the front of house and the restaurant manager came downstairs to the kitchen and said: “We really, really need some help in the front of house. Can you come and help?”

So I put on a waiters uniform. I had a little bit of experience; and Lady Diana walked into the restaurant, sat down, and I ended up looking after Lady Diana. It was a wonderful experience. We got on really, really well.

The following day her aide called the restaurant and said she’s coming again. And she had really liked Julian to look after her. It was my day off. I got a call from the restaurant manager saying: “Lady Diana is coming. She wants you to look after her.”

I jumped out of my skin, ran to work and I never did another shift at the kitchen. And what I found, essentially, is it combined my love of food, my love of people and really looking after people is something that I’ve always been really passionate about. So, in a way, I found my place.

Thoughts on the TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR

Catzeflis: I like the way it’s structured because, essentially, you structure it with all of the elements that create the businesses. Meeting people that are at the design stage, from the culinary side through to crockery suppliers — having that mix of people together I found very interesting.

Julian Catzeflis was a delegate at TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR London. To attend future TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR events around the world, contact TOPHOTELPROJECTS’ Head of Global Events & Conferences Kayley van der Velde.

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