- Chris and Jeff Galvin are the only brothers in the world to both hold Michelin stars.
- Chris told Business Insider getting a star feels like being “elevated into a very special club,” and adds “enormous pressure.”
- The brothers try to maintain a focus on consistency, good ingredients, and value.
- However, customers booking tables and not showing up is their biggest “bugbear” – and 5% of them do it.
- This accounts for a loss of £250,000 ($US328,000) a year, they told us.
Chris and Jeff Galvin are incredibly laid back considering they’re the only brothers in the world to both hold Michelin stars.
When Business Insider caught up with the London-based brothers the morning after Valentine’s Day, they described an understandably busy evening at two of their restaurants.
To ensure things ran smoothly, Chris had spent the evening at London’s Galvin HOP, while Jeff spent February 14 at HOP’s Michelin-starred neighbour, Galvin La Chapelle, both of which are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year.
It’s this type of teamwork that has made their careers successful.
Chris started out washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen at 15, and when he progressed to helping the chef pick vegetables, he suggested his 12-year-old brother Jeff come help out as a weekend job.
Both brothers went off to college, then started working in the same kitchen in a small restaurant in Shropshire, UK, which used fish from a local river and locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Since then, the brothers have gone on to work at the likes of The Savoy, The Ritz, and the Wolseley, before teaming up in 2005 and launching more than 10 different restaurants in London, Essex, Scotland, and Dubai.
From the more low-key HOP to Galvin at Windows, which sits on the 28th floor of the Park Lane Hilton, the restaurants provide a bit of everything – but the focus throughout is on market-driven ingredients with French inspiration.
“If we had to have a label it’s French, but we’re much more modern European,” Jeff told Business Insider.
Chris added that there are often misconceptions about what makes up French cooking because it’s such a big country where food changes from region to region.
“In the south, it’s olive oil and Mediterranean fish, in northern France the climate is similar to England, and everything in between,” Jeff said.
“Old classics of frogs’ legs and snails and lots of offal, people didn’t really get in this country,” he said. “I think it was lack of knowledge … The first pioneers of French cuisine in this country struggled because we didn’t have the ingredients they needed.”
He added that now, there are an “abundance” of ingredients available, which has allowed the brothers to adopt French and Mediterranean styles.
The “very special club” of the Michelin-starred chefs
Now, two of their restaurants – Galvin at Windows and Galvin La Chapelle – hold stars.
Chris, who was 40 when he got his first star, said he felt like he was “elevated into a very special club.”
“It can put anything between 10% and 30% onto your business,” he said. “You get a big rush of customers all coming to see why – it’s enormous pressure.”
However, he said the brothers try to remember they have earned their stars because they were already doing things well.
“The most important thing is quality of ingredients and consistency,” he said. “[The Michelin Guide] wants everybody to have the quality they experience when they visit.”
Jeff added that the Michelin Guide is about “someone walking in trying to impress somebody; [being able to] count on the experience you’re going to get.”
“Once you have a star you realise that if you focus on customers, the Michelin thing will look after itself,” he added.
He said he goes by the motto “you’re only as good as your last plate,” so the brothers are “always striving to be better.”
“It could be taken away very easily,” Jeff said. “At the end of the day, it’s a lot of hard work, very careful shopping, and consistency.”
Despite their starred status, it’s important to the Galvins that the restaurants aren’t completely unaffordable, either.
“There are different price points… bottles of wine start at £20,” Jeff said. “Chris and I are from a humble background [and we] shouldn’t exclude anyone.”
Chris added: “[There are] things that are affordable and things you can spoil yourself with.
“Once upon a time it was us who couldn’t afford to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants, [and there was a] quite reserved approach to dining out.
“Now millennials are coming through, especially to La Chapelle… We’ll have CEOs or top banks sitting next to Tracy Emin on the next table, a musician on another, and a top legal firm having a discussion on the table next to that.”
“Restaurants are a bit of a doormat”
Maintaining that level of quality, consistency, and value isn’t easy – and it drives the brothers crazy when people don’t seem to recognise that.
“So many times customers book and don’t turn up,” Chris said. “It’s frustrating.”
“We buy food, we buy wine, we spend a lot in anticipation of customers coming. For some reason, restaurants are a bit of a doormat where people think they don’t have to turn up.”
He added that if you buy a ticket for a show, play, or concert, you wouldn’t just not turn up and forfeit your ticket.
“I don’t understand why people don’t respect craftsmen working hard,” he added. “Real food is handmade – there’s a farmer taking a lot of time to grow something, a fisherman to catch something. A craftsman takes it, works hard in the kitchen.
“[Food with] no chemicals [has a] very short shelf life [but they] don’t even bother to ring and say, ‘We’re not coming.'”
“We could have sold that table time and time again.”
The 50 best restaurants in the world in 2018
The brothers added that they simply don’t think people understand the impact not showing up has on the business.
“5% of customers are no-show, [which accounts for] a quarter of a million pounds per year, [because] we could have sold the table two, three, four times over,” Chris added.
“It’s amazing when you explain to people, they probably think we have two to three tables not show up, it’s more like two to three tables per service,” he said. “It’s a real shame.”
They added that if this wasn’t the case, the restaurant could probably make prices a bit leaner and “be way more profitable.”
“Like an airline or hotel, we can’t take extra people and say, ‘You’ve got to wait,’ that wouldn’t be the answer,” Chris said.
“Some restaurants are deciding to sell tickets. We do take a deposit occasionally, but when they don’t show, we have leftover food – that’s the biggest bugbear.”
Speaking in the morning, he said: “Even if they call now and say they can’t make lunch at 1 p.m., not a problem. It’s just the courtesy. I don’t think they have any idea what the implications are.”
“It’s fun dining, not fine dining”
It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to go away, especially for a restaurant that’s trying to remain flexible and relaxed.
On their attitude towards the type of place they want to run, Jeff quoted one of his brothers’ favourite lines: “It’s not fine dining, it’s fun dining.”
“We’ve had people who have been studying turn into CEOs, and we don’t necessarily remember them, but they come into La Chapelle, [and they say] ‘I remember the first meal I had with you while I was studying,'” he said.
“So people can have a bit of fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
He added that no matter what happens, their accomplishments – and Michelin stars – will stay with them.
“When you achieve it once, it kind of stays with you,” Jeff said. “If we closed La Chapelle tomorrow, I wouldn’t have it, but like an Olympic gold medal holder, the fact you have achieved it once will always stay with you.”
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