National Hospitality Day: 'Eating out sustainably does not have to cost the Earth'
- Credit: Paul Winch-Furness / Photographe
Andrei Lussmann’s mother once told him he made a good gin and tonic and that hospitality was the industry for him. She was right.
Today Lussmanns is one of the UK’s leading players in making sustainable dining work and, most importantly, keeping it affordable.
Twenty years after opening his first café in the heart of North Kensington Lussmanns is once again on the expansion trail; looking to open in Berkhamsted before the year is out, introducing his personal style of ethical food to yet more of the people of Hertfordshire.
Andrei followed his mother’s advice: he got a job in the industry at 16 before studying hospitality and business at university, while continuing to hold down three jobs as a student, even running a petrol station.
His work ethic is fierce, but he believes in both working and playing hard: “Work has always been an essential ingredient in providing perspective and growth of mind,” he says, “we need to be stretched and challenged through work, while not forgetting to retain a sense of humour.“
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His passion for hospitality developed from his experience selling everything from Japanese sushi to home-made bread. He was starting out in the glamourous 90s - an era when hospitality was going through something of a renaissance in the UK and partying hard was the order of the day.
Andrei was a part of this: he even worked the bar at 1980s super-band Duran Duran’s club in Birmingham. When Pizza Express burst onto the scene in the middle of the decade the restaurant group became the darling of the city, revolutionising the way people had eaten out. He found himself in a senior position in the organisation and his apprenticeship was complete.
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He opened his first cafe in London's Ladbroke Grove in 2002 (cooking for none other than David Bowie at one point) and opened his first eponymous fish and grill restaurant in Hertford in 2004.
Over the next two decades three further Hertfordshire restaurants followed, including the St Albans Lussmanns, situated in perhaps the most beautiful spot in the city, in the Cathedral Quarter. And now he begins building work on what will be his fifth, in Berkhamsted.
Alongside him is his strong and loyal micro team with long time industry stalwart as group head chef, Nick McGeown. Karl Brunger is in charge of operations and Kat Grant responsible for the company’s people – “the most important part of all”.
But this journey has not been without bumps in the road. Some of them huge.
He had to close two restaurants down due to the pandemic: one in Tring which never had the chance to get established, and one in Oxford which he refers to as “the most expensive pop-up restaurant in history” as it opened just before the first lockdown, costing £450,000, and lasting only two weeks.
“This past 18 months has been the most challenging in the history of the industry” he tells me. “For owners, chefs, waiters, bar staff. Everyone involved.”
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride filled with worry and anxiety. No-one in this industry has come out of it unscathed, and of course we are still in it, to a certain extent.”
But Lussmanns is resilient; the business pivoted and the St Albans restaurant turned into a dark kitchen within 36 hours and began a ready-to-cook meal delivery service.
After trying to put a system in place to deliver food to NHS workers but being defeated by government red tape, he offered the service instead to local people and has now delivered more than 500,000 dishes to homes, raising several thousand pounds for the St Albans Foodbank charity along the way.
“It was crucial we kept a light on in the business, so our staff would have a business to return to” he says.
“The vast majority of staff in this industry are young and many don’t have academic qualifications.”
Lussmanns employs 100 staff of 25 nationalities.
“There is a real career to be had here if you work hard,” he says. “It’s a wonderfully fulfilling industry full of supportive, fantastic people – it’s like an extended family. The challenge now for the industry is to nurture them, and ensure better working conditions.
"Firstly because it is the right thing to do, and secondly because Brexit has turned off the employment tap, there is no question about this. So we really need to improve the allure of working in this industry so that we can staff it accordingly.”
Lussmanns is of course known for looking after the planet: the sustainability awards and badges it has earned over the years are too many to list here, but the group is a founding member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and the only UK restaurant group currently to have a menu that is completely MSC-friendly (Marine Steward Council).
But sustainability is not the cheap option, especially as the group absorbs the extra costs itself rather than passing them onto the customer.
“Doing the right thing rarely is. But I don’t want it to cost the earth for my customers and so we are a very affordable restaurant. And I believe that eating out can have a restorative impact on the planet” said Andrei.
“We’ve pioneered sustainable dining since 2002: championing locally sourced, organic, high-welfare farming and serving MSC-certified fish. Our restaurants run on green energy, we recycle 100% of all waste and support a wide range of charities.”
His next goal is to become certified carbon neutral – and if Lussmanns succeeds it will be one of the first UK restaurant groups to do this.
“I want people to enjoy dining out regularly without feeling guilty - knowing that your carbon tread is light and that the staff who look after you have a career and are supported and treated with respect.”
His mother knew he’d be good in hospitality, but making hospitality good for the planet has become Andrei Lussmann’s driving force.
THREE SIMPLE LUSSMANNS STARTERS
BURRATA, PADRON PEPPERS, SLOW ROAST TOMATO BRUSHETTA
8 slices Sourdough
8 Padron peppers
2 large tomatoes, roasted, cut into wedges
Virgin olive oil
1 clove Garlic
- Wash the peppers and pat dry
- Place a frying pan on the stove and add oil
- Once smoking add a few peppers at a time
- Toss in the oil until the skins start to blister
- Add rock salt and drain on to kitchen paper
- Toast a thin slice of Sourdough bread,
- Rub the toast with garlic oil
- Cut in half
- Tear burrata in half
- Place on the toast in 2 halves
- Top with 2 Padron peppers and 3 slow roast tomato wedges between the 2 pieces of toast spread out over the burrata
- Drizzle with olive oil when on the plate
GRILLED NECTARINE SALAD, BROAD BEANS, COTSWOLD WINDRUSH
CHAR GRILLED NECTARINE, Windrush, broad bean
2-4 nectarines (chargrilled) cut into wedges
Bunch of mixed herbs
80g frozen peas
80g broad beans
Windrush goat's cheese
Salt and pepper
- Firstly blanch peas and beans separately in boiling water for 1 to 2 mins, then refresh in cold water
- Cut the nectarines into wedges, rub with oil season and chargrill on the chargrill creating lines
- Place the nectarines, peas and beans in a bowl with olive oil and season
- Place the nectarines on to the plate and scatter with the peas & beans plus dressing
- Then scatter over the crumbled goats cheese
- Finish with herbs
- Dress with a little more olive oil
CORNISH MACKEREL, EVESHAM TOMATOES, BASIL VINAIGRETTE
4 MACKEREL FILLETS
4 large tomatoes sliced (or 8 small)
Handful of basil
Seasoning to taste
- Wash and score fish
- Slice tomatoes (slices large) (8 slices small)
- Dress with a 2 spoons of basil vinaigrette
- Mix gently with the tomatoes
- Taste for seasoning
- Arrange gently scattering all around the plate in circular fashion
- Top tomatoes with basil
- Meanwhile the fish is cooked skin down first, for 2/3 mins each side. This is then placed on top of the salad.