Antonino Forte is Restaurant Manager at the acclaimed Galvin at Windows. Master of Culinary Arts winner, Antonino won this prestigious award recently and is one of London’s most experienced Restaurant Managers.
The Master of Culinary Arts (MCA) is regarded as the ultimate accolade for chefs, pastry chefs and restaurant managers in the UK. Held every four years just like The World Cup, these prestigious awards recognise outstanding craftsmanship. The Master of Culinary Arts is the UK’s highest culinary honour, conferred upon those who have displayed mastery of the complex and specialised knowledge and skills in the culinary arts.
We caught up with Antonino to find out more about his career and to talk about the world of hospitality.
How did it all start?
It all started over 11 years ago when I arrived in London. As I was the winner of the best Maitre’ D’ of the year in 2011 in Italy, I started straight away to search for what I could do next in London to challenge myself. For me a competition is also a way to learn, improve yourself, network and find new inspirations.
The Master of Culinary Arts requires a lot of requirements just to enter, and the last time there was the opportunity to enter, I didn’t have what was necessary. However, I took this as a challenge and started to research and ask about it and I pushed myself to be ready for the next round which takes place every 4 years. Furthermore, what is important is changing the perception of hospitality jobs, especially for front of house. It is very sad that even the government said that our profession is considered as low skilled. For myself and my team, this is definitely not the case.
Tell us about the restaurant experience at Galvin at Windows and what makes it different?
At Galvin at Windows the experience that you get is unique as it is a special place, not only for the view and for the food, but for the environment that the team create which makes all the difference.
First, because I am very proud of my front of house team, that is not just a team, we are a family that have worked many years together and stayed together. All of them started from the more junior positions and today they are running the restaurant with me. For many of them, I am not just their restaurant manager but also their older brother, friend, mentor and especially during the pandemic I became more connected with the team as I had to be much more than just their leader. I feel this was a really positive outcome of the pandemic
Secondly, now more than ever, emotional intelligence and empathy is the key to delivering top quality service.
Thirdly, my team are the epicentre of what I do, as are my guests. My team shares this feeling with me and passes this on to the guests. In a few words, we take our ordinary steps of service and turn them into a memorable experience for our guests. At the end of the day, hospitality is not just about the food but how you make the people feel. All my team are empowered to go the extra mile and make sure all our guests have a fantastic experience.
How has Park Lane changed in the years you have been working there?
I think the beauty of Park Lane is how it is steeped in so much history, this is something I believe makes the area so special. The one thing that has changed is the different restaurants and bars which have opened over the years I have worked in the area. Just a couple of weeks ago I was invited to the new opening of The Audley. New executive chef Jamie Shears used to be my sous chef here at Galvin at Windows. This is what I love about working in Mayfair.
What would you say to someone who wants a career in hospitality?
Yes, please go for it! Hospitality is not just about being a waiter or chef, but the industry can offer vast opportunities. You can travel the world; you can meet many people and you are constantly learning. Hospitality is an art and a lifetime investment.
Top three tips to being a great leader?
- Be present and lead by example
- Bring empathy and emotional intelligence to the table
- Integrity and consistency
All of the above need to be mixed with plenty of passion.
What are your favourite restaurants in London?
Well, as I am Italian, I would have to say my favourite restaurant currently is Sartori, which I often go to with my team after work on a Sunday. It’s a place we can spend some good quality time and of course enjoy the best pasta London has to offer! Also, if you are looking for pizza, 50 Kalo is great.
We know you have many regular customers and long-standing staff. What is the secret to retaining both?
It is all about hospitality, how you make your guests and team feel. What makes a place special is the hospitality and how memorable you make the guest experience.
The secret to retaining staff is to first build a culture like the one that we have in place at Galvin at Windows. Our culture empowers everyone and inspires all the team to go the extra mile. All ideas are welcome, it is my job to listen to them. And the most important point, team members are not a number, they are human capital. It is my job to make sure they have a fantastic experience in the workplace.
The best compliment is when guests say, “this is our favourite restaurant.”
What will the London food scene look like in 5 year’s time?
I truly believe there is much more emphasis on sustainability. People want to know the story whether that be food, beverage, or team. They also want an enjoyable experience. In 5 years, I would also expect to see much more fun injected into the dining experience.
What is next for you?
For the moment I am so happy to continue the great work me and my team are doing at Galvin at Windows. Of course, I am developing my skills set so I am ready to take on my first General Manager role. I am being fully supported in this by my GM Peter Avis, who keeps me motivated and growing each day.
Given my recent MCA Award win, I want to keep working to change the perception of hospitality and to give more opportunities to young people. Being such an ambitious person, I learned that everything is possible. Winning the MCA is a dream come true as years and years of hard work, commitment and study paid off. Now, I am ready for the next challenge.
To discover more and see Antonino in action, visit: galvinatwindows.com
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All imagery courtesy of Antonino Forte and Galvin at Windows.