We’re celebrating our thirtieth year at etc.venues which makes it the perfect occasion to talk to some of the extraordinary people who’ve helped shape our business; people like Marek Dabrowski, one of our two talented Executive Chefs.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I come from Poland which used to be a communist country. Polish ethos, at least when I was young, was to find a secure job. So, at the age of 17, I started thinking about my options. My Grandma, who was a great cook, gave me some career advice which was hard to fault. She said “Be a chef. It’s a good profession and people will always need a meal.” It was hard to argue with that so college was the next step. I spent three years studying and that’s when I discovered a genuine love and passion for different types of cuisine and how food impacts people’s health and lives.
How long have you been at etc.venues?
I’ve been a chef now for 27 years, 11 of those at etc.venues. Initially, I was employed by Alan Palmer, the Executive Chef at the time, at Dexter House. After a couple of months, I was promoted to Sous Chef and then after another couple of months, I was promoted again to Head Chef. I believe the reason for my rapid career climb is that I have genuine passion and I work hard.
How does working hard make someone a great chef?
Working hard means never cutting corners and focussing on perfecting even the tiniest details. I’ll give you an example. At a recent fintech event, I was asked if we could create a large Bitcoin-shaped waffle. I spent 4 days at home, perfecting the batter’s texture and consistency to ensure every single detail of the coin-shaped waffle could be seen. The client was thrilled especially as it tasted as good as it looked! Results like that don’t happen by chance. It takes effort and application. You need to genuinely care.
It really is about putting the prep in. When you invest the time and learn about the various methods, you can cook anything. Some chefs excel in one particular area. They have their niche. Whereas I’m equally comfortable baking a plant-based cheesecake as I am an authentic Thai Curry.
Would you say that you have an approach or philosophy?
My approach… this has been influenced by my experiences travelling to places around the world, especially Asia where I travelled to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. When I was in Phuket, Thailand, I visited a small bar serving street food run by three local ladies who created all of the 85 different dishes on the menu. When someone ordered a meal, they’d disappear out the back into a garden where they grew the vegetables. They cut all the ingredients for the meal as they needed them. I believe that’s the best way to cook… the fresher, the better.
My philosophy… this can be summed up in one word: Respect. I believe you need to respect the people around you. This isn’t a TV show and there’s enough pressure within a kitchen without adding drama to it by being disrespectful to others. We all work together and focus on the food, not job titles. There’s no ego in the kitchen.
It’s also important to respect the food. A great chef should be constantly evolving, creating new flavours and dishes while staying true to the character and identity of your cuisine of choice.
Does your approach differ for large conferences?
Not at all. The freshest seasonal ingredients are a must-have regardless of the size of an event. With large conferences, we create bespoke modern menus and, unlike a hotel, our aim is to re-charge attendees with ‘brain fuel’ rather than carb-heavy, energy-sapping meals which leave guests feeling tired. After all, we don’t want attendees falling asleep during an event!
The aim is to ‘wow’ our delegates. We treat every attendee like a professional food critic… we’re always on our best form.
What’s important when creating great food for events?
Communication. Every client I’ve worked with knows that I’m pro-active. I don’t hide inside a kitchen. I meet clients to understand their objectives and requirements. So, I’d say that communication before (for the briefing), during (to check all’s well) and after an event (for feedback) is crucial.
We need to make sure that the food is outstanding because it matters. When you check our reviews on Google, most of our clients mention the quality of the food. It’s a key element that can make or break their experience of the event.
What about sustainability, food standards and waste? How do those fit in?
With sustainability, we are now focussing more on developing our vegan offering. Our plant-based meals never taste like a compromise. They’re delicious. We’ve become experts at creating eco-friendly plant-based desserts, canapes, and main dishes.
To further reduce our carbon footprint, we source at least 75% of our meat, vegetables, and fruit locally (from the UK) rather than abroad. It makes sense from an environmental perspective and it supports the UK economy.
As for our food standards, they have always been high. All of our meat has Red Tractor certification and our suppliers meet BRC approvals which means we can trace all of our meat back to the farm it originated.
We’ve also introduced a series of measures to tackle food waste. Obviously, we can’t fall short of preparing enough food for an event so the approach we take is to replenish rather than overload a buffet which can lead to food wastage. We’re also smarter about how we use our ingredients. For instance, rather than throwing cauliflower leaves away (which typically happens in most kitchens), we use the leaves to create sauces or a salad base. Finally, we record and diarise waste; this helps us look for patterns and insights that can help us avoid future wastage.
What do you think are the current trends in cooking?
Current cooking trends include sustainable plant-based food, gluten-free dishes, low-waste, carbs-free meals, mushroom-based recipes and locally-sourced meat, fruit and veg. All the things we’re already doing…
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Passing on my knowledge to the amazing people in my team.
If you’ve been inspired by this article, you can read more about our people and how they’ve helped shape our brand over the past 30 years here.