Derek Bulmer was personnel manager at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair when he spotted an advert for a hotel inspector at Michelin. A life of travelling and eating out appealed to him so he applied thinking that he might do the job for two or three years – thirty-three years later, ten of which were spent as editor of the guide, he retired but as we discovered, he shows no sign of slowing down.
Over the thirty-three years that you were a Michelin inspector, did you ever get bored of eating out?
No! There were, obviously, isolated incidents when I had a particularly busy week so on the odd day I was feeling a bit full and thought I’d rather not be eating out today but I tried to arrange it so that when I was eating out twice a day which I normally did when I travelled, I would eat a lighter lunch and a more serious dinner. It was thirty-three years in total that I did the job, the last thirteen as the editor, during which time I was probably eating out in higher quality restaurants. In the early days, I would have gone anywhere looking for places to put in the guide. Back in the 1970s, it was pretty dire and it was a struggle to find anywhere that was recommendable. Then things took off in the 80s and improved a lot and, as I got more senior, I was eating in the top places much more often so the quality of the meals improved but no, I never got fed up of it. And I’m still not now!
What advice would you give to a chef opening a restaurant today?
I would say one of the most important things is make sure you get a good business partner who can look after everything else apart from the cooking. Too many times, when I was in the job, I saw very talented cooks who were working in big hotels with big support services behind them, allowing them to nurture their talent and be creative in the kitchen. I saw them leave thinking they could do it for themselves and then come unstuck often because they had to worry about the VAT, paying the wages, do I need a work permit for this guy . . . they got distracted and often the cooking suffered. So I would say, if you’re after Michelin stars, make sure you’ve got someone who can look after the other things to allow you to concentrate on what you do best.