Q&A with Chris Hawkin’s, Camm & Hooper’s Group Culinary Director

Welcome to an exclusive insight into the culinary journey of Chris Hawkins, Group Culinary Director at Camm & Hooper. Discover the inspirations, challenges, and future trends that shape the vibrant world of event catering.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience in the kitchen? What inspired you to become a Chef?

My passion for cooking started at a young age. Coming from a large family with five brothers, my parents worked long hours, so my Nan often spent time in the kitchen preparing meals for us. I spent countless hours by her side, learning about different foods and their preparation. After completing my education, I pursued a junior role at Jasper Conran Group, where I spent three formative years before transitioning to Smiths of Smithfield.

With over 22 years of kitchen experience, my journey led me to excel in event catering. Before assuming my current role as Group Culinary Director at Camm & Hooper, I dedicated over a decade to event catering, curating menus for gatherings ranging from 20 to 3,500 guests.

You joined Camm & Hooper on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since this time, the business has grown exponentially and has established an impressive reputation as a premier events management company. What role have you played in this success story?

I joined Camm & Hooper just over three years ago as the UK was just getting back to some form of normality. However, due to the way in which the country shutdown, there was literally a whole business filled of equipment left out and a clear rebuilding job to do.

With a clear vision aligned with senior leadership goals, I set out on a path of culinary innovation. Taking this sense of innovation and disruption, I started to curate new menus and concepts, aligning with the idea of setting Camm & Hooper aside from champagne flutes and buffet trays and replacing it with trendy food stations, diverse menu options and the opportunity to interact with the kitchen staff.

In the last three years, my individual team has grown from two Chefs and two Front of House staff to 14 Chefs and 14 Front of House Staff with no sign of growth slowing anytime soon.

Where does your main inspiration for curating new dishes and flavours come from?

I have worked alongside amazing chefs, like Daniel Clifford, and while I draw inspiration from diverse sources, I emphasise originality and creativity in my dishes.

I am extremely lucky in my role in that I have complete creative freedom and I am proactively encouraged by my CEO to go to restaurants to try different foods and concepts. While there is nothing more frustrating than going out and being served terrible food, there have been many occasions where I have been inspired by certain dishes.

However, event catering is a completely different ball game to cooking in restaurants, as you need to be able to replicate every dish for 500+ people. On the occasions where I have been inspired, I’ve taken certain flavours and ideas and essentially simplified it to make the dish scalable. We currently have 3000 – 4000 dishes on our menu and many of which have been created through this process.

This is also why I love event catering. Unlike working in restaurants, every day is different and comes with new challenges.

The last few years have been difficult in Hospitality and events. What do you consider the greatest challenges and how have you overcome these in Camm & Hooper?

Two significant hurdles have marked recent years in the hospitality industry, the increased food and oil prices and a diminishing pool of skilled workers post-BREXIT.

I could see the rise in food and oil prices coming months before the actual costs hit our P&L and was able to implement several measures as a result to ensure the business didn’t feel too much of a negative impact. This included hand picking suppliers, being clever and more creative with menu options and reducing wastage wherever possible.

Finding and retaining great people is an ongoing challenge that spans many industry sectors. Post-pandemic, there is increasing demand for work life balance and higher salaries, with the former often difficult to achieve in the events industry. However, we have built a passionate team who are united in the long-term vision for Camm & Hooper and enjoy the innovation and creativity the comes with the role.

The demand for vegan and vegetarian options has grown exponentially in recent years, and I think this trend will continue throughout 2024. This is largely driven by more people being conscious about what they eat, be it for health or environmental reasons.

At Camm & Hooper, a large percentage of our menus are both vegan and vegetarian and is something we intend to expand and evolve this year, while focusing on driving our own sustainability agenda.

As a business, we thrive on culinary innovation so certainly don’t follow food trends set via platforms like TikTok, as we create our own – but I can see how the social media channel can drive audience engagement for businesses like restaurants, for example.

What can clients expect from Camm & Hooper menus this spring/summer season?

Creating new dishes is one of my favourite tasks, and I feel that we certainly won’t disappoint with our spring/summer menu.

Comprising many different dishes, our new menus enable clients to enjoy a blend of vibrant colours, seasonal ingredients, and creative presentations, all culminating in an exciting burst of fresh and tasty flavours.

I love all of the dishes on our new menu but would say that one of my favourites is the “Beef carpaccio with truffle dressing”. I know that there is a strong demand and trend for plant-based food, but my personal preference would be this dish – it is very light and delicate with a great balance of flavours.

With dates filling up fast for summer socials, now is the perfect time to secure your spot! Get in touch to book your next event with Camm & Hooper