If I thought I was a goose being fattened up for foie gras yesterday, it was nothing compared to today. Sorry if you’re bored by these missives, but this is for Brett’s sake…
Breakfast I kept to the bare minimum of strong black coffee and a sliver of that delicious “Ferrero Rocher” cake (as I’ve called it), to be polite. Then went visiting around the village with Lina (whose uncle was my grandfather), who showed me where my grandfather lived, worked etc before he left for Oz.
At each pal and relative’s place we visited there was espresso and cakes and pastries. By noon it graduated to lunch offers. And I mean proper lunch. A feast seemed to be set out on each table ready for whichever family lived there. But we politely declined each one and went back home for our own lunch of lasagna (made with ragu that Sandra had simmered for 2hrs), salad, cheeses (being in the Alps, they like their formaggio – YAY!!!), mortadella (another fave from childhood), coppa, bread and red wine from their own grapes. Just a little wine, they never have a great deal. And Sandra’s hubby, Giuliano, pops in each day from work as an electrician and we all sit down for a proper meal (except Giovanna, who works 1hr away as a doctor at the regional hospital).
Then popped next door for espresso and more pastries and a local delicacy called coppetta (boiled honey with walnuts, biscotti, amaretto and other bits and pieces that are spread over a tray to set and chopped into chunks, a bit like nougat) – and received gifts of home-grown honey made from flowers(!?), some home-made copelletta and a beautiful tin of recipe cards (in Italian, but they’re all on a mission to get me to learn the language). And then they pulled out the grappa – at 2.30 in the afternoon!!
Then more visiting, more espresso, more offers of cakes and pastries.
Then came dinner for my last night. O.M.G. You know how I said Sandra’s bro-in-law was a baker? Um, I got that bit wrong. He just happens to be the head chef of the best restaurant in the commune of Valtellina that is housed in a little castle from the 1200s. And he really went to town. Canapés of crostini topped with various delicious bits and pieces. Followed by huge plates of thinly-sliced fish from the fresh-water lakes and rivers all around us, plus a salad of octopus, white beans, tomato and caviar. Followed by plates of tortellini with a delicate but verrrry tasty prawn and calamari ragu. Followed by plates of ravioli stuffed with local ricotta in a light pesto sauce with lashings of pepper and butter. By this time I was stuffed like a poncho.
But wait – there’s more!
Steak. The most delicious medium-rare steak, served carved into slices, with simple crunchy sautéed potatoes and rosemary from the garden outside (that I was far too full to eat – the potatoes, not the rosemary). Some of the most tasty beef I’ve had, and I like my beef. We managed to decline cheese and dessert(!!) – although it was offered – but they slipped in a lemon sorbet before we could protest. Of course, the meal was washed down with a superb local red wine that chef Gianni also gave me a bottle of to take away.
Man alive, I won’t need to eat for days. Brett, you would’ve loved it.
We finished the evening by bro-in-law unlocking the gates so we could wander around the flood-lit castle and sigh at the sheer beauty of the view. The Italian Alps all around us, and the valley of Valtellina snaking through them way below, with the twinkling lights of each village and the bigger city of Sondrio. Absolutely beautiful. I actually stood there mentally pinching myself.
Am off on a train to Genoa tomorrow, to meet up with a bunch of French pals who are all staying with Philippe at his home by the sea. So any idea I had of reining in the massive food feasts is about to come to nothing, because that lot eat like kings and have the extra curse of drinking like fish, too. It’s a hard life.
It turns out I arrive in time for lunch – “fish alla plancha”, says Philippe. See? I’ve got no chance.
It should not matter whether the CFO reports into the GC (unlikely in reality) or the GC reports into the CFO (not unusual). But it does. It matters a lot to lawyers who often wrestle about whether or not it’s a good idea, usually fears of independence being compromised.
A Linked In thread on a group for in house lawyers (closed group) raised this question and the overwhelming consensus was to avoid working in that company with that arrangement. A lawyer must ensure that his or her independence is uncompromised. Principle 3 of the SRA Handbook says as much.
The tricky situation for lawyers is that the principle overrides any reporting lines and direct access to the decision makers. For in house lawyers with management responsibility additional regulations apply including a requirement to ensure effective governance and reporting lines. This applies to lawyers no matter who they may report to.
It’s not necessarily the reporting line that this the problem. It’s courage. There’s little difference between telling some home truths to your CEO directly and going over your CFO’s head to the top if your integrity feels that’s what’s required. You’ll still be ruffling some feathers! Just one path, may ruffle more.
For lawyers, telling truth to power is sometimes required and if stepping on toes troubles you because of a reporting line issue, perhaps you need to consider whether or not you are hampering your own independence!
There are ways to manage this in a politically charged business environment. You could make it clear upon accepting a role reporting to the CFO that your professional obligations may require you sometimes to speak directly to the CEO. You can also build the necessary alliances and trust within the business to see that you have voice at the top table (ie prove yourself).
The CFO and GC should be aligned on business objectives. Both will want to help the business that they work for grow in a sustainable way, managing the risks along the way. But, personally, I’m not a fan of a lawyer reporting to the CFO largely for the reasons set out by Tom Kilroy on his blog. I do believe that in smaller companies it has a place, if only that the CEO/founders are often too pre-occupied with the business idea and leave the management to the CFO in a dual COO role.
So long as you’re comfortable speaking truth to power, the reporting lines shouldn’t matter all that much.
I’m moving back to Australia and need to sell my car. Details and photos…..
Volkswagen Passat – 1.9 Tdi - £5,500 ONO.
4 Doors, Manual, Saloon, Diesel, 62,000 miles, Metallic Silver, Full Service History
· 2006 (06 reg)
· 62,000 miles
· MOT Jan 2014
Collect from Guildford Area – Available from 30 May 2013
Very nice condition throughout, Great low mileage, Brilliant performance and economy, Lovely drive, Full Service History, Air conditioning, Electric door mirrors, Front electric windows, Remote central locking, 2 Keys, Radio/CD, Alloy wheels, ABS, Adjustable seats, Adjustable steering column/wheel, Anti theft system, Central locking, Child locks, Cloth upholstery, Computer, Driver airbag, Head restraints, Folding rear seats, Metallic paintwork, Passenger airbag, Power assisted steering, Rear armrest, Side airbags, Rear headrests, Traction control, Trip computer, 3×3 point rear seat belts, Alarm, Front head restraints, Heated door mirrors, PAS, Height adjustable drivers seat.
As much as law firms try to help its lawyers understand what life is like for the in house colleague they can’t teach the full suite of skills required. In house lawyers must be trained in finance, operational matters & applied legal strategy to operate effectively in a business.
An in house lawyer who fails at these things risks being too isolated from their colleagues and business who they’re meant to be serving. Being an in house lawyer doesn’t automatically gift you with these skills.
LBC Wise Counsel’s founder Paul Gilbert saw this problem 14 years ago and started teaching in house lawyers how to be better business people. I attended the course on 7-9 April 2013 at Queens’ College in Cambridge and discovered that Paul runs the General Counsel school.
Barbara Hamilton-Bruce wrote about the Cambridge Course in great detail which you can read here. I agree with Barbara’s account and sentiment.
The lessons for me are that I’d make this course compulsory for my in house team – it helps lawyers integrate better and makes them more valuable to the business. I would also make the legal team sit with the finance team – operationally the interests are aligned but the finance way of looking at the world helps lawyers understand why and how business decisions are made. It may also teach lawyers about brevity and getting to the point.
The course content is excellent and like anything you get out what you put in. It was refreshing to see that the attendees were all excited about being there rather than resigned to enduring something for a few CPD points. The enthusiasm is an endorsement of the content mixed with understanding that we needed to know it to improve our careers!
However good the prepared content is, it was when I spoke with fellow attendees and other more seasoned in house lawyers and guests dragooned by Paul that I learned the most. The out of hours discussions at the pub were the golden opportunities and the barriers came down; the honesty began. I saw former colleagues (co-attendees) with new appreciation, learned that my frustrations with “business people” were shared and received some helpful career advice.
A chance conversation with Carolyn Kirby, a Judge who happened to be there as Paul’s guest, put me right about the quality of my CV and convinced me that so long as my experiences are relevant a full and interesting CV rather than a safe and solid one was OK and preferable – “we work a long time, who wants it to be dull and boring? There was no arguing with this Judge.
You’re a lawyer – your basic legal training has taught you how to argue for something that you want. LBC Cambridge runs a few times throughout the year and it’s worth negotiating a business case for the budget to attend. It moves you on from just being a lawyer which is why you went in house, right?
I need to correct 2 errors (mine alone) in my eGullet article which features in the No. 14 edition of Fire & Knives.
- Andy Lynes organised the Fat Duck lunch and not Simon Majumdar.
- It was Steven Shaw who said ‘you owe it to yourself and us to write more.” to Andy Lynes and not Jason Perlow.
Hot French summers with customers eating lunch on a terrace, perhaps a fountain bubbles away in the background. The countryside’s scents fill the air with rosemary, lavender, wild thyme and food. The prix fixe menu offers the best of the region and contains dishes which reflect the mood in which I woke up that morning as I gathered my thoughts in the kitchen with the first of many espressos of the day. That’s my ideal French bistro.
I don’t have a bistro in France. I don’t have a bistro at all. I considered leaving behind a professional career in England to open a bistro in France. I considered if that was a good idea, whether or not I could do it and what it would look like. Its foundational requirements were good food, cooked well, at reasonable prices. I even had a site in mind.
It was in the Loire and was right on the cycle route, it had a sweeping street frontage and was fitted out – it used to be a bistro. It hadn’t been for some time owing to a dispute between the owner and the Mayor and village was poorer for it.
It seemed mere trivia that I had no experience in restaurants or catering and no money. Surely just the romantic notion of opening a bistro in the Loire was all that one needed to succeed. It may have been the amount of rosé consumed during the Bastille Day celebrations in the village but that evening in 2010, I sauntered up to the Mayor and asked her whether or not I could have the licence to take over the Bistro.
“Non!” She said. My request was simply out of the question. And that was that. Off she went to mix with the locals. I’ve since heard that the owner converted the beautiful building back into his primary home.
Back to reality and it occurred to me that if I was serious about this then I should be taking some classes, learning some techniques, talking to people who run successful restaurants, working in kitchens and continually experimenting and practising all the while trying to hold down my day job. I can dream as much as I like about the French summers, food and rosé but that is removed from the reality of opening a bistro.
Thanks to tremendous support, long conversations, time in kitchens and generous friendships I tasted what is required to run a bistro and re-train as a chef.
Meeting @FoodUrchin gave me the initial kick that I needed to host a supper club ie cooking for strangers who pay for dinner. The supper club returned some constructive and encouraging feedback from @r_mccormack and @somersetchef – they were honest about my skills. A chance meeting at @lucmartin’s London supper club held @chancerylondon introduced me to @janiestamford.
Janie summed me up within 2 minutes “Lawyers! What’s it with you? You’re the stereotypical MasterChef contestants.” Janie became a close friend and let me ask a lot of questions about the catering and hospitality industry – turns out she knows a bit about that.
Janie’s observations shifted my focus from chef-patron to restaurateur, but not before she introduced me to @hayden1974 who let me into his kitchen for the day to see what it is really like as a cook. Janie was right, if anything I’d make a better restaurateur than chef and a few gins with Zak who owns @chancerylondon confirmed that.
It wasn’t all take and @timhayward gave me the chance to write for Fire & Knives about my contrarian take on London’s food culture. Tim’s ‘Fitzbillies’ story also inspired and shaped the place I wanted to open: a restaurant that moves through the rhythm of the day from coffee and light breakfast to lunch then dinner.
And what would this journey be without having delved into food television? I was given a lot of insight from @japster2008 on this world. Lack of cooking talent and credibility aside, it was clear that I had a face for radio.
When I first mentioned this bistro in France idea to my food scenester wise owl chum she cried “Are you fucking crazy?” I am not that crazy but having looked at bistro life and tried it to some extent I know that I’m just not cut out for being a chef patron. I would, if anything, make an excellent restaurateur but I just didn’t have that amount of devotion. Besides, I’d much rather eat in the bistro.
This took place during 2010 to 2012.
Australia’s food was excellent. England’s food was not. That’s at least how I remember it in 2004 when I moved to England for the second time. Then, Australian food was all light, fresh, vibrant and religiously accompanied with a glass of some local white wine (10 Greek Street will give you a flavour of this).
England’s food was heavy, starchy and battered. I was genuinely confounded about where to find a decent meal in London. Then, good coffee in London was sold in ‘boutique’ coffee shops and in Australia, coffee shops.
Nearly 9 years later, time has changed England and it has also changed me. England’s restaurant food is now incomparable to what it once was with ‘seasonal’, ‘local’ and ‘fresh’ ingrained into the psyche of chefs & punters – it’s no longer some wish words on a menu. Some of London’s restaurants are the best in the world by miles – Soho possibly the centre of the dining universe right now.
Facing a return to Sydney, the food anxiety is reversed. I am certain that Australia hasn’t regressed from 9 years ago but not moving forward is not that far from falling behind. Nina Caplan @NinaCaplan (a food writer who flits between England & Australia) assures me that my fears are misplaced – but there they are, niggling. To stoke the anxiety I even see truly London trends inspiring the Aussies (burger anyone?) – win the Ashes all you like England, but this food influence may be a step too far.
Australia’s post-Second World War immigration from continental Europe has gifted Australia with its food culture. Imagine if most of Europe moved to southern Italy taking all their food heritage with them – it’s like that. The fun is in the discovery and I can’t wait to find Australia’s current ‘seasonal’, ‘local’ and ‘fresh’ and share them. I may even take orders for export to England.