From Punch and Judy to Haute Cuisine by Michael Flagg
Event 6a Westminster Kingsway College Vincent Square London SW1

Book Launch at Westminster Kingsway College

It was inevitable for the biographer to reflect back as this book encourages, to his own teaching days at Westminster 1971 to 88, although in the somewhat different area of hotel administration and front office and not food preparation and service.

This book launch commenced with a Punch and Judy performance by leading ventriloquial figure maker, ‘Professor’ Geoff Felix himself,  a follower of the methods of Arthur Simms father ‘Quisto,’ whom Arthur as a boy, assisted in giving performances to the royal children at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham in the 1920’s and early 30’s. This was a fifteen minute rendering of the contents of Chapter 1 and written by Geoff as the co-author and continued with the biographer Michael Flagg’s account of Arthur’s harsh up-bringing in Kennington London (Chapter 2), the development of Westminster Institute from 1910 and Arthur’s student days 1930 to 33 culminating in his gaining a first class diploma in Professional Cookery (Chapter 3). 

A pause then took place for the meal and drink service, allowing invited guests to mingle in the elegantly refurbished Escoffier Room, named after the great ‘King of chefs’ and ‘Chef of Kings’, with white clothed window ledges and opened as an extension to the Westminster Institute in 1953. Both in the biographer’s days and even further back in the student days of Arthur Simms 1930-33; the requirement was for ‘silver-service’ (i.e.:-with a spoon and fork) to restaurant customers. Even here the norm today is for less formality, with a product oriented customer-friendly service, which is not servile but offered with civility and friendliness, emanating an American influence. Attractively presented food in a bowl superb in taste, involving a more economic deployment of staff time created and served by Maitre Chef Stephan Greubel and his team of chef students in the kitchen. They also as part of their training, undertake service directly to the customer under the supervision of restaurant manager Max Palmer, which means student chefs not being solely confined to the kitchen and waiting staff to the dining room as in yesteryear. They gain an integrated experience of both specialisms, albeit as far as the dining service is concerned, with less operative skills than in previous times.

As the second half of the book’s chapters 4 to 14 deliberated and as readers will find especially in Chapter 10, there is no longer a total segregation of further from higher hospitality education and training and education is offered throughout as a continuum. This calls for a greater integration of subject specialism, from foundation through to higher degrees. Also as researchers, students and interested readers will hopefully discover through these 473 colour pages, is that what is offered today in the myriad of hospitality establishments, emanates from the requirements for professional standards and qualifications especially in the UK, post 1945 and the expected developments in tourism. Foundations which were laid down by Arthur Simms and his contemporaries and now taken for granted by today’s customers.

Now the hospitality industry is hugely competitive especially in restaurant sectors and the range of choices is huge and ever changing and customers can become understandably fickle. Sadly the availability of other choices reflected on this book launch with some invited guests being deferred perhaps to the attraction of the Restaurant Exhibition at Earl’s Court London and a waiting competition, or merely the compulsion to get home after a wet and strenuous Monday 8th October 2012. What a loss for them the biographer and the organisers at Westminster including superb and talented entertainment as well. There we are, you can’t have it all can you?