Craig Sandle: Career Profile

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Craig Sandle is now the executive chef of The Pompadour by Galvin
Craig Sandle is now the executive chef of The Pompadour by Galvin
Craig Sandle is proof that dedication and commitment pays off in hospitality. The 37-year-old Edinburgh-born chef has worked in restaurants for over 20 years, spending nine of those heading up Number One at the Balmoral Hotel. Now, he oversees the latest instalments of Chris and Jeff Galvin’s empire, The Pompadour by Galvin and Brassrie de Luxe at The Caledonian.

How I got to where I am now:

I always knew I wanted to be a chef. My mum was a manager in a country house, so I started doing a bit of work there to get some pocket money. As I gradually got better at that, I enjoyed the buzz of the kitchen.

I went to catering college, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t the right way to go for me - I thought I could learn more in the workplace. When I was 17 I went to work in France for just under a year, which was a great experience.

I came back and began to work in Edinburgh. I got a job at Ellersly House Hotel, and then Norton House Hotel. I then got offered a place at the Balmoral as a chef de Partie. I worked there for two years and then I had an opportunity to go and work as the head chef for Lloyds TSB executive Dining. I did that for another two years, but I realised that side of the industry just wasn’t for me - I wanted to be back in the kitchen.

I was offered a job back at the Number One Restaurant in the Balmoral as head chef. I was there for just over nine years and for eight of those we retained the Michelin star. After my time there, I was approached to do some development work for Marks & Spencer, which I did, but I couldn’t see myself doing for a long time.

And then came the Pompadour opportunity. I was asked by Chris and Jeff to oversee the new restaurant, along with the brasserie. It’s a great job, it's more diverse with lots of behind-the-scenes work. I’ve been here for about a year now, taking something from scratch to what it’s like now has been a real learning curve but it’s been so rewarding.

My greatest achievement:

Pompadour-by-Galvin
The Pompadour by Galvin recently scooped the gong for Best Urban Restaurant at the Scottish Restaurant Awards 2013

Working with Chris and Jeff is the highlight. I love their style - they allow you to run a business as if it’s your own. They’re not here every day but they’re always available if you need them. It’s great to be working with that level of trust.

And working in a beautiful building like this – when we bring this place back to what it was 30 or 40 years ago, at that point I think we’ll have achieved what we set out to achieve.

My biggest challenge:

The biggest challenge has been longevity in one job. To keep the momentum going consistently can be tough. With this place, there are so many things to achieve. At Number One’s it started to reach a peak for me, it was full most nights and there wasn’t much more I could do.

It’s when you don’t have challenges that you start to worry, you can get to a point when you realise the time has come to move on.

What I love about restaurants:

The kitchen team and the people you meet. It’s great to teach young guys; to help them fulfil their career goals. Being part of a team that has a challenge ahead is great, and being able to lead that team out is a great feeling, it keeps me consistently motivated.

No matter what education you have, you’ve always got an opportunity in restaurants. Put me in a classroom and you’ve got a nightmare. Put me somewhere where I can be reactive and hands on and I’ll succeed, that’s a great thing about this industry.

What I don’t like:

This industry loves people that are so committed to it they’ll dedicate their whole life to it – I think that’s a plus and a minus. The guys that are so committed will succeed, but restaurants can really consume them.

Another negatives is that quite a lot of young chefs don’t realise how much work it takes to become a chef. They believe that you can just be a chef straight away. But I think, in some respects, the industry itself is to blame – it’s become so diverse that there’s a gold developed between the lower end and the top end. Young chefs don’t realise how different the work can be between the various restaurant operations.

My advice for young chefs:

It should be easier to become a good chef now. A young chef here in Edinburgh would have the choice of at least five or six places that are Michelin-starred.

All you need is dedication and commitment. You have to learn to sacrifice things - even now at 37 I make loads of sacrifices for this job – sometimes family and friends. The people around you need to be understanding.

What’s next…

I tend to not plan my career out. If you look at where I’ve got to now, a lot of it has been by chance. But one of the reasons I came here was because I think the job has a great potential for longevity.

In the end it would be lovely to have my own restaurant – I think that’s every chef’s idealism. But maybe it’s not a realistic aim. Right now, my focus is firmly here, we’ve got a lot to achieve and I don’t have time to think about next moves. 

Related topics: Business, People, Restaurants, Career Profile

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