De Keyser wants to see the introduction of a hospitality minister in a Governmental role and a reduction on VAT.
The chef, who started working for Tom Kerridge at the Hand & Flowers gastropub 11 years ago, said: “A lot of pubs are shutting, that’s no secret. But the hospitality industry employs 2.5m people so the knock-on effect of Covid and Brexit are still being felt so the Government does need to help more.
“Tom [Kerridge] has always been a champion of the need to have a hospitality minister but, at the same time, we also need a ministry as well. That way, there can be work going on behind the scenes and not just a face.
“You know, we’ve got a health minister, we’ve got an education minister, so why don’t we have a hospitality minister?”
He added the sector also requires a reduction in the VAT rate.
“We need a VAT reduction. We’ve got the highest rate of VAT in Europe – everyone else’s is significantly less than ours. We need that front-end tax relief rather than corporation tax on profit. There’s no point taxing profits if pubs are struggling to make a profit.”
Of course, all sites whether they be gastropubs, wet-led community locals through to independents and sites owned by large pubcos have been affected by recruitment difficulties, and soaring energy and ingredients costs to name a few.
De Keyser said: “Within the industry, food prices and energy prices are massive. We’ve got fridges, freezers, ovens on all day, every day, and we’ve got the bills to pay.
“Over the past 13 years that I’ve been a chef, we’ve always been looking to recruit chefs no matter where I’ve worked – and we’re always looking for more talent.
“It’s still very exciting to be a chef and the lifestyle is great.”
Chef of the Year honour
The lifestyle may not have been great in the past for chefs but the work-life balance under Kerridge is making the role much more appealing. De Keyser explained chefs work very hard but doing so four days a week means they have three days off.
He said that while the breakfast chef does work five days a week – from 7am until 4pm – with one of the sous chefs or chef de partie covering his two days off, the business has worked on the rota since the new year meaning a four on, three off shift for some.
De Keyser, who scooped the Chef of the Year award at the Top 50 Gastropubs 2023, explained: “Gone are the days when I was in London working five or six days a week from 7am till midnight or 1am then racing to get the last Tube.
“There’s a lot more work-life balance and you can see it in the teams. Everyone’s fresher, they put a lot more love and energy into their day so it’s far more productive.”
He cut his teeth in the business as a demi chef de partie at York & Albany – a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London – then moved onto the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in 2012, aged 23 just after the gastropub earned its second Michelin star.
After two and a half years, De Keyser was promoted to chef de partie and Kerridge’s second site, the Coach, opened also in Marlow. Both he and Nick Beardshaw went to the new site as senior sous chef and head chef respectively where they won a Michelin star in 2017.
Beardshaw moved to the Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in London leaving De Keyser in charge at the Coach where he remained until 2021 before taking the head chef job at the Hand & Flowers.
“It’s a big job but very exciting,” De Keyser said. “At the Coach, I was responsible for 24 staff but at the Hand, it’s 100-plus, so it was a massive leap but the role is great, every day is different and I get to use exquisite ingredients.”
Not only did Kerridge’s sites do amazingly well at the Top 50 Gastropubs – the Hand & Flowers, placed No.8 on the list while sister sites the Coach was No.15 and the Butcher’s Tap & Grill placed No.57 – De Keyser took the coveted Chef of the Year mantle.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a secret to winning awards,” De Keyser said. “But I suppose comes down to working hard and building relationships with colleagues within the industry because outside of work it’s important to go and eat out so you can meet new people and talk about the industry, dishes and ingredients.
“It’s a massive honour and I was very proud to receive it. There’s a lot of hard work and you make a lot of sacrifices with regards to your personal life as well because you want to do well. So that was great and it was a massive shock.
“We’re not in the job to get awards but they’re great to receive and it’s good publicity for the team and the pub. Of course, it’s not just my award because there’s no way I would have ever got this without the team here.”
What’s next for the Hand & Flowers?
De Keyser said: “All pubs need to continue moving forward. The rising quality of pubs over the past 20 years is something [the industry] should be very proud of. The standard and the quality of new pubs coming in gets significantly better every year.
“The Top 50 Gastropubs is a massive leading light for hospitality and there’s always lots of positivity at the awards and it’s a big family and team, and everyone pushes each other on.”