Jeremy Lee is chef proprietor at the London restaurant Quo Vadis, having been head chef at the Blueprint Café for 18 years. He was also co-presenter on the Channel 4 cookery show Could You Eat an Elephant?
Lee, 57, lives in Hackney, east London.
How did your childhood shape your attitude to money?
My father was fairly parsimonious, but he and my mother spent a great deal of time and money on food. Dad was an illustrator and mum was a domestic science teacher.
We lived in Angus, on the east coast of Scotland near the River Tay. It is the garden of Scotland, with its own microclimate; things thrive there. There wasn’t a lot of money, but it went a long way and there were a lot of trips to markets.
When did you know that you wanted to work with food?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户I didn’t, really. I was heading towards art school but I always spent a lot of time in my mum’s kitchen. My first job was as a waiter in a nearby hotel that had just opened. I was rubbish as a waiter, so they put me in the kitchen, which was much better.
Did any of the food you grew up with influence what you wanted to cook when you became a chef?
Very much so. We never had any restaurants when growing up, so we never ate out, but my mother was a fantastic cook.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户She had a great love of French cooking, as well as good plain Scots food. I think this fuelled an abiding love of modern British cookery.
What was your lucky break?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户It was extraordinary timing. I managed to luck out on day one, getting an apprenticeship, and worked with one of the last of the great British Transport Hotel, Escoffier-trained chefs.
Who has had the biggest impact on your career?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户I think a combination of Simon Hopkinson in the kitchen and Terence Conran in the dining room at Bibendum, way back in the mid-1980s when it was magnificent and new. It became a spearhead for so much more that was to come.
What has been the most lucrative part of your career?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户The big bucks have always eluded me, but I have managed to carve a reasonably good living out of restaurants. Once upon a time, cooking was a dead-end job.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户It’s been fascinating how this has changed and to watch the rise of restaurants.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your business?
It has been absolutely enormous. It has been an extremely testing time for the restaurant business. But there is also huge entrepreneurial spirit. It has been interesting to see the entire food community come together and talk to each other. Watching all these businesses organise and turn to home deliveries, and all the myriad things they have done, has been amazing.
What impact has it had on you financially?
Like all of us, I was looking down this awful tunnel and wondering, “when is this going to end?”. I have just been cooking and keeping wolf and worry at the door while eating well. I have managed to keep my head above water. I think the Government’s furlough scheme was a godsend and that has saved many a household.
You have cooked for the NHS during this crisis, is that right?
I worked for an amazing crew called DeliverAid. There were a lot of NHS workers as well as one-parent families in dire straits. So I would cook, and DeliverAid would come and pick the food up and deliver it to these homes and households in need, with a bunch of volunteers.
Going forward, how will restaurants cope?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户We are in the middle of plans to reopen in July. Quo Vadis is blessed with a great many rooms and stairwells, so we can actually have quite a good flow of people without being crowded.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户We need a risk assessment to assure folk that all that can be done is being done, while giving them somewhere to escape. I think everyone is fed up to the back teeth of being stuck at home and wants some return to normality.
What has been your best business decision?
Learning to cook. I will always have a trade. And making sure I worked with enlightened, good people who wanted to encourage and help further my career. That was very important. Also, starting a pension at a young age was a genius manoeuvre, though I did not understand it at the time.
How old were you when you began your pension?
I was 17 and I am very grateful to my father for making me start it. It was a small amount, but it is from small acorns that mighty oaks grow.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户I do think building and contributing to a pension scheme is vital. I also think it should be built into the school curriculum as something sensible. It’s important to educate people that they are in for the long haul.
Which is better, property or a pension?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户I think they both go hand in hand. The dream scenario is a company that is thriving and can enrich its entrepreneurial sponsors who are in turn generous to their staff and partners, with enough cash to then fuel the pension scheme. I think that is vital, so then you are working towards something.
It’s important to have the habit of putting away a little every month, and in time it will hopefully go towards a pension or pay a down payment on a flat, or both. There is great joy to be had in cooking in your own kitchen.
What has been your worst financial decision?
Borrowing. If you can go through life without borrowing or having an overdraft, you will sleep well at night. I haven’t had a credit card for years, but when I first had one, I blew it all in a month. Off I would go, have a very jolly lunch and then go shopping. You should never go shopping after lunch. It’s a bad idea.
What is your greatest luxury?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Linen bedsheets. And good food, which is a constant. I have always bought good food. My earliest memory is going shopping with Mum and Dad; we bought food and books. Books are also a great luxury. There is a comfort and joy in them.
Does money make you happy?
Money makes you secure and, yes, I think, of course, it makes you happy. I remember Simon Hopkinson saying to me at Bibendum when I was cooking in his kitchen, “isn’t it marvellous to make money out of doing something you love?”.
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户I hold that very dear and I think it is a great thing to preach to kids in the kitchen and all the young teams I have had under my care. I don’t think you can have a happier situation than doing something you love and making money from it.
Jeremy Lee is working on a book for Fourth Estate, which will be out next year. Quo Vadis reopens soon ()