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Peter Gladwin, the acclaimed London restaurateur and chef, has sold his
high-end London eateries to focus on his event catering firm, Party Ingredients,
as it moves from Nine Elms to Canary Wharf
Peter Gladwin likes to party, which is just as well as he runs one of the country’s top event catering companies, Party Ingredients. In fact, he’s just returned from organising yet another shindig – a reception to launch
the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. ‘That’s always a good one,’ he grins, pulling on his chef’s jacket before heading off to his gleaming new kitchen in Canary Wharf.
Party Ingredients has just moved house, thanks to the American embassy moving in. Or rather make that compulsory-purchased – the area around their old Nine Elms HQ will soon be home to some swanky new residences and the fortress-like embassy. But it came at the right time, says Gladwin. ‘It’s an ambitious move, but the right one for us. We are more accessible now. And it comes at a time when smaller catering companies are being forced out of the centre of the capital – it gives us the edge.’
Party Ingredients has grown up over the last 35 years from a small outfit doing private dinner parties to a catering company that handles state banquets, as well as operating as the sole caterer for a growing number of venues – the word spreading by mouth. Around 80% of its business is London-based, while the rest is out of town. ‘Mostly the Home Counties, but we’ll go anywhere if people pay us,’ says Gladwin.
Yes, 35 years. That’s some feat in this business – but then Gladwin isn’t just any old party caterer, he’s a chef and restaurateur too. After co-founding Party Ingredients in 1975, Gladwin opened his first restaurant 20 years later in the heart of the City – Just Gladwins on Mark Lane, EC3. Then in May 2000 he designed and opened Just The Bridge Bar & Brasserie opposite the Tate Modern. This was followed a few months later by Just St James, an ambitious conversion of a former banking hall on St James Street into a fine dining restaurant and bar, and a year later a sister restaurant, Just Oriental Bar & Brasserie.
He has since sold all the restaurants – the last one, Just St James, in March this year. ‘It was a mighty ship and I’m not sorry to get out of it. You were either too busy or not busy enough and there were so many personnel issues,’ he remembers, wincing slightly.
Not so Party Ingredients. Business has been consistently good, even through the recession, with an average of 25 functions a week, from business lunches for 30 to weddings for 200 – and the odd state banquet for a thousand, always the biggest challenge and proudest moment, says Gladwin.
‘I think because we have such a mix of business we’re busy all the time. The only low season we have – if you can call it that – is late July to the end of August when we tend to focus on weddings. Though this year we’ll be busy then.’
Gladwin is launching his first pop-up restaurant this year, from 18 July to 28 August. Called Pop-up at The Palace, it will take place at Whitehall in the impressively regal main hall of Banqueting House. Open daily for tea from 2pm, it will serve lavender fruit scones under the Rubens-painted ceiling, and offer pre-booked group lunches. Why? ‘Because it’s trendy, and fun to do,’ says Gladwin.
Being on-trend is important to Party Ingredients. The move to new premises prompted a new board, and a new managing director in Vicky O’Hare. O’Hare used to run Gladwin’s restaurant business and is looking forward to breathing new life into the company, with its 48 full-time staff, including 16 chefs, and a legion of 200 or so part-timers who they train up specially.
‘It’s important to keep current. The mix of youth and experience we have here is pretty helpful. If one of our staff visits the latest hot new restaurant, we can look at translating some of those elements into what we do. It’s important to make sure the younger members of staff have a voice,’ says O’Hare.
It certainly helps that the state-of-the-art premises in Canary Wharf includes a shiny new training centre. Indeed the double-height, window-filled space looks more like an art studio than a catering kitchen. ‘Everybody is motivated by the move – we all feel newly energized,’ she enthuses.
The secret to their success? ‘We purchase every ingredient specifically for each event. And everything is tailor-made, right down to the chocolates you eat after the meal, and the bread that we serve. We locally source sustainably produced food wherever we can,’ adds Gladwin, who regularly loads up his Land Rover with ingredients gathered from producers near his West Sussex home.
‘Pulborough asparagus, Nutbourne tomatoes, Sussex beef – though this is more to do with my passion than practicality,’ laughs Gladwin, whose three children with his wife Bridget have all gone into food in one way or other. His eldest son manages the opening of new restaurants and his middle son is a chef at River Cottage, while his youngest son is a farmer. Bridget, meanwhile, manages the herb garden that supplies Party Ingredients with some of its more unusual foods, such as chive flowers and nasturtiums, and also oversees the wine estate they own, Nutbourne Vineyards.
Peter and Bridget bought the 26-acre vineyard in 1992 when most thought English wine was a wild folly. Now it’s winning medals all over the place – theirs included (Nutbourne’s vines nudge up to celebrated neighbouring estate Nyetimber).
Not that you’ll see their wines (the bubbly is called Nutty) on the shelves outside West Sussex – Gladwin keeps most of the 40,000 bottles he makes for himself and has no trouble shifting it through Party Ingredients, another USP for the firm.
In fact, he’s planning another pop-up restaurant at the vineyard later this summer, once the grape picking gets underway. And yes, he does get involved. ‘I do pick the grapes – my sons, too. We love it,’ he says. Cheers to that.
For more information on Party Ingredients,
tel: 020 7517 3500
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events, summer 2011