Alumnus Josh Katz
Josh studied Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu London in 2002. Prior to launching Berber & Q in 2015, Josh worked in some of the best kitchens in London, including Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and Ottolenghi, before being appointed head chef at Made in Camden in 2010, the restaurant inside the iconic Round House in Chalk Farm.
We spoke to Josh about his journey to become a chef, what drives him every day and find out about his newest restaurant, Carmel.
When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
"I’m not sure I had a penny-drop moment. It was more a gradual process. I was cooking more and more at home, eating out whenever I could and spending any spare money I had on food. Le Cordon Bleu lit a fire in me that wouldn’t go out. I was at a proverbial dead-end early on in a career in marketing and decided to jump into gastronomy and retrained as a chef."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"It always represented the pinnacle of gastronomic education for me. I had a window of opportunity between studying my undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and thought I should explore my passion for cooking in greater depth to make best use of the free time that I had. Le Cordon Bleu was the obvious choice for me, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who were willing to support me financially and enable me to sign up for the course."
How has what you learned at Le Cordon Bleu London helped your career?
"It gave me a solid foundation and understanding for cookery that I was able to take on into my career. It also gave me my first sense of cooking under pressure, to remain calm and think clearly. Most importantly, it gave me the confidence to proceed in the profession and to realise it was something that I wanted to do with my life."
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one sentence?
"The pinnacle of gastronomy and culinary education."
Was your goal always to open a restaurant?
"Yes. I’ve always loved restaurants; their ability to transport you to some other place, far away or otherwise, or their capacity to make you forget about your problems, if only just for a few hours, to enjoy life and be in the moment. Hospitality can be a powerful force for good when delivered and executed properly."
You have three restaurants in London now, can you tell us about your newest restaurant, Carmel, and how it compares to Berber & Q and Shawarma Bar?
"It’s a higher-end version of what we have done historically, pitched at a slightly higher price point, a little more refined in the offering, but still with the same energy, enthusiasm and soul that we try and inject into all of our restaurants, so that they are each individual in their own way but bound by a shared vision of how we want to deliver our own particular brand of hospitality."
Do you have any other projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
"Not right now. I’ve got my hands full just trying to run the three sites at the moment, but we’re always looking to grow and take on the right opportunity, wherever or whatever that may be next."
What does an average working day look like for you?
"Truthfully, it’s difficult to define, as it’s so varied and can differ vastly from one day to the next. I can be covering a shift in any one of our kitchens at any moment in time, or fixing any of the numerous problems that arise in any one of our sites (there’s a lot of fire-fighting involved in running restaurants), or conceiving of new ideas, menu development, marketing activities, or simply just touching in with our team and making sure everyone is ok. There are many aspects to running restaurants and at times it can feel almost overwhelming. It’s an old adage but it’s important to have good people around you who you trust and can lighten the load."
What would you say are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your role?
"At the moment, the most challenging aspect is definitely staffing. There’s a huge staffing crisis in the industry which is making the job even more difficult than it normally is. It’s also very difficult to manage across multiple sites, different concepts, and knowing where to be when. There’s a definite sense of being pulled in every direction.
The most rewarding aspect is getting to work with some truly fantastic people, from all walks of life and different corners of the world, who you get to call your team-mate and who become, in many instances, dear friends. There’s also immense satisfaction in seeing happy, (often returning) customers who enjoy what you do, and making a difference to their day, however small and insignificant it may seem at times, in the grand scheme of life. I take great pleasure out of a busy dining room full of conviviality and enjoyment."
What drives you every day?
"The pursuit of delivering excellent hospitality that is unique and brings enjoyment to as wide an audience as possible. I’m also driven by building a harmonious team atmosphere and creating opportunity and career progression for those who stick by us and give their all to the company. It’s not easy, and we don’t always get it right, it is a constant process of evolution and improvement, but it keeps me driven. That and my daughter."
What would you say the best thing is about being a chef?
"You get to work with great produce, to create, to deliver enjoyment and to meet great people along the way."
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"Find out what food resonates with you and pursue it. There are so many cuisines and styles of cooking, each one will appeal to a different type of personality. Find the one that is right for you. Don’t work anywhere where you’re treated poorly, or over-worked. The old kitchen antics belong in the dark ages, in another era, and are better off left there. There are plenty of places serving amazing food without treating their team like dirt. Take the time to find them. And before you open a restaurant, find out if it’s what you really want to do. It can be very rewarding, but also all-consuming, and once you’ve started it’s hard to stop."
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"We’re constantly looking to grow our company, but we’ve had a tough couple of years, and to be honest, all I’m looking forward to at this precise moment in time is a few quieter months this summer when I can get a bit of downtime to spend with my family. I can’t look much past that right now."
Inspired by Josh's journey? Find out more about our cuisine courses or visit our programmes page to view the full list of courses available to start your culinary journey today.