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Chef groupie
Try and visualise a hot-tempered Chef asking you to go ‘undercover’ to review his own food!

Shabnam Ghayour
August 8, 2007

Hi.  My name is Shabnam Ghayour and I’m a “Food-a-holic”.

Therapy-Style confessions aside, yes, I am indeed Shabnam or ‘Sabrina’ as my clients know me.  I’m 100% Persian, live in London and I’m 31 years old.  I’m a blog virgin, and this is my official debut.

I love my job.  I started my own business about 18 months ago.  I left the Restaurant Industry after an extremely stressful period working for a certain ego-maniacal Michelin Star Chef, who simultaneously abused me and revered me at the same time.  A combination which I found too difficult to work under and ultimately led to my resignation.  It was actually my 5th resignation attempt that he finally accepted.  And 2 months later, purely by accident, I decided to set up my own business.  It has been a steep learning curve, but I am extremely proud of the reputation I have cultivated, and all my work has come via “Word-of-mouth” which is the best (and not to mention, cheapest) form of advertising. 

I initially thought I would just do events, but the demand for various roles has expanded to Marketing, Restaurant & Hotel Consulting, Private Catering and much more besides.  The secret of my success is doing everything myself.  I entrust very few tasks to other people.  I believe if you want to blow people away, you should do everything yourself, to ensure its done 100% how you visualised it.  I’m blessed that people recognise this ability in me and it has led me to be in greater demand, doing more fun and interesting jobs than I’d ever imagined.

Ok... So I’m the first one to admit, I’m no authority on the culinary arts... But I will say that I have spent 11 years working in the Hotel/Restaurant industry and I’ve been cooking since I was 6 years old, so I know a thing or two about food.  Further proof of my passion for food, lies in my figure – Just like all the supermodels, I work hard to maintain my shape and my body is made up of the finest Gourmet produce that money can buy.  I don’t ‘Eat to live’, I (definitely) ‘Live to eat’.

I currently run my own events & restaurant consultancy.  I work with a lot of famous Chefs, top restaurants and well respected food critics.  But don’t mistake me for being arrogant or a show off, because with the greatest degree of honesty, I’m genuinely the biggest ‘Food Geek’ on the planet.  For me personally, working with famous Chefs & food critics is like working with Movie stars or Rock stars.  They are my idols.  My ex-boss (Herbert Berger – Grumpy but loveable Michelin Star Chef) used to call me “Chef Groupie”.  More for his own reasons, then perhaps because of anything I did.

On occasion, I’m sometimes asked by certain Chefs or my industry peers to review a restaurant, or act as a Mystery Customer and review a restaurant for it’s food and service etc.  Try and visualise a hot-tempered Chef asking you to go ‘undercover’ to review his own food!  Surely it’s a contradiction in terms, but foolishly, I seem to always accept!  I find the challenge lies in phrasing the review carefully, so not to infuriate the Chef, but get my point across.  (I feel another skill listing coming on for my Resume... “Shabnam the Diplomat”)  And I didn’t even have to study politics to get it!

I have written countless reports, reviews and given verbal feedback to so many Chefs and Restaurateurs.  Anything from small restaurants serving homely, rustic meals to more famous Michelin star joints that confuse artistry with cookery.  I have politely masticated, secretly spat out, uncomfortably swallowed and respectfully digested hundreds of meals as part of my career.  Some of which placed me in a position where I had to smile to my clients and say “Oh my god, this duck breast is so tender and delicious” instead of “What a pile of under-seasoned rubbery crap.”  Sometimes suggesting that something is a certain way, works as an effective method of influencing other people.  And in this particular art, I am a master.  Although I will never tell a bare-faced lie, I am ‘creative’ with my wording.

A famous London restaurant once called a meeting with me, to explore the possibility of hiring me to turn their business around.  Basically I’m hired (on a short-term contract) to tell them where they are going wrong (whether menu or staffing etc) and then correct the problem, throw them a party using my client contacts, and usually “Voila!” Problem solved.  On this particular occasion, I met with the General Manager who invited me to lunch.  The meal, unfortunately, was not up to scratch, and it was obvious to my host.  He actually begged me to pinpoint the faults in the meal and look through his menu and give my suggestions. 

I do as he asks and he thanks me with sincere enthusiasm and excuses himself momentarily.  As he walks back to the table, he is followed by a man wearing a white jacket.  White jacket?  I hear you ask... Yes, white jacket.  Although I only wish it was the kind of white jacket that would have led to me being taken away, in order to avoid my impending fate.  But no, the General Manager (Or Jackass, as I have now dubbed him) had summoned the Head Chef, so that I could give him a blow-by-blow account of why I found his food so bad, that I felt it was affecting the revenue and occupancy of his restaurant. 

I was so (so,so,so,so) mortified.  The Chef (6’2 of angry Soccer-Hooligan looking Englishman) was absolutely seething at me.  And to add insult to injury, I said “Oh, don’t be angry at me, I’m just being honest” as I proceeded to politely tear his 15 years of expertise as a Chef to shreds in one fail swoop.  Not good.  BUT, there is a moral to this story... And the moral is?  You should have listened to me... !  The restaurant closed down 3 months after my visit. 

In the 11 years that I have worked in Restaurants and Hotels, I have seen a thing or two.  I have thrown parties for rock stars, movie stars, royalty.  I have organised intimate dinners, wild parties, Polo events, themed events, Weddings and Barmitzvahs. 

I have seen A-listers snort cocaine off the staircase at a club I worked at, I have seen supermodels shamelessly straddle and dry-hump rich playboys.  I have worked with Jewish Mother-in-Laws that have driven me nuts and Bride-zilla’s that tested the very core of my patience.

The one thing I have learned?  THANK GOD I’m self-employed!  I call the shots, or as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman said “I say who!  I say when... I say... Who!”

And for that?  I am truly thankful.  Freedom is priceless... And as long as you don’t kiss- ass and aren’t afraid to go against the majority when you feel you have a valid point to get across, you will ALWAYS (always) gain the respect of your peers. Comment

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