Tony Lewis
Chief Ambassador
(Greater Manchester)

I first became passionately interested in food as a teenager cooking or baking with my Nan in her kitchen, years later a local restaurant opened near to me and needed a job (as a potwash) which I think most of us start out at 15.

 

I moved through the ranks, and became head chef of the same place 7 years later.

I then moved to work in a new era of high street branded restaurants opening rapidly within London called “Carluccios”. I gained success there and was mentored by Antonio to host cookery demonstrations and cookery training around the country with him and accompanied him at several book signings, opened 20 restaurants and became a regional training chef for him and the team.

 

Camaraderie and bond was something I cherished, delivering delicious food in new kitchens, passionate eager chefs lead me to be head hunted and become executive chef for Jamie Oliver at the height of his British boom and training new teams, and opening new restaurants such as the incredible flagship Newcastle site and supporting 11 others along the way with me coaching, costing and specials creation as well as recruitment and all the other stuff to do with running 12 kitchens!

 

This became increasingly complex and challenging when my wife had baby number 3, and the demands of such high profile establishments and family life was becoming very one sided I chose family over career. I didn’t realise at the time but looking back now 7/8 years later mental health becoming increasingly strained. And certainly was the best route to depart.

 

I became Executive Chef of a high profile but local, family ran garden centre, independent and huge volume, but with immense detail, incredible national award winning team of 25. I learned how to manage my mental health strain using physical exercise and a mind journal to channel my thoughts and pushed forward being able to manage the dark times from before.

 

At such a different pace and lifestyle I increasingly missed the drive, and camaraderie of the high street, and found myself offered an amazing role as Executive Chef for a unique and small pan Asian brand within the north west.

 

This was a brilliant opportunity but very pressured compared to my previous role, along with very long demanding hours, but my understanding of mental health gave me the tools to juggle workload and demands. However, COVID struck us all and my role was simply dissolved, like thousands of others I felt hurt that I wasn’t able to be supported but also could see the potential of this happening given how many others had the same situation. However given the time of the year agencies literally ignoring, not responding very little was on offer of these previous typed of roles, and took a head chef role local to me to be able to be close to family and very little travel means the hours don’t quite effect family life so much as previous regional roles.

 

I’m much more balanced mentally and clearly focused on a future - whatever that may be, either progressing through the ranks of a branded business, or pursuing my own."