Scott Garthwaite, a deaf professional chef and TV presenter, is a true trailblazer in the food to-go space. All about breaking the mould and shattering communication barriers in the kitchen. So, for this Inside Scoop, we tucked into his world of culinary innovation and true foodie heart.
Scott has worked in the restaurant industry for over 15 years, overcoming hurdles and harnessing his skills and senses to make a name for himself, not only in the kitchen but throughout the deaf community and beyond. After having his business plans delayed by the pandemic – he launched his own food truck business in Spitalfields market!
Now, he’s pioneering new ways of communicating in the kitchen by giving deaf people a chance to work in hospitality (he’s hired seven to date!). He’s also expanding the Punk Chef business – making sign language and dareish dishes more accessible for everyone.
From tales of transformation and the power of branding to the magic of food as an experience, we unpacked it all with the man himself.
1. How do you do things differently in your kitchen?
Scott: “It’s a more relaxing environment. In previous jobs, I found people didn’t know how to communicate with deaf people. I’d arrive and colleagues would say “Hey, you alright?”, and that was as much communication as I’d get. I could get on with the work, but as it wasn’t in my language, I couldn’t be relaxed or communicate freely.
“But in the food truck, we talk about anything – from our work to what we’ve been doing over the weekend. It’s freeing because we’re all operating in our first language, which is sign language, making everyone feel as comfortable and energised as possible.”
2. What is the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?
Scott: “Branding has been key to my success. The pink and black links to my personality and hair. It stands out and it’s unique because of the Mohican on it – not something you see every day! Just driving around, that’s an iconic image, and people notice it!
“But I’ve learnt that to be a brand with purpose, it’s important to do things differently and give people a whole experience. Because it’s not just us serving food, it’s something new and different that’s breaking down communication barriers.
“What we would like to do is develop a leaflet or QR code where people can get a YouTube video and ask stuff (in sign language) or maybe they get a package with sign language on it. Small things that can be seen.”
3. What’s one thing your business did that you didn’t expect?
Scott: “When I set up the business, I thought it would be impossible to bring in deaf expert chefs because across the UK there are very few deaf trained chefs working in the hospitality and food industry. You’re drawing from a much smaller pool of one, maybe five total deaf people who are chefs.
“When two of my staff first came to me, they hadn’t worked for eight years. They had applied to lots of different jobs but faced rejection after rejection. So when they came to me, I gave them the opportunity to come and work. At first, I had to go to the truck every day because of the intensity of the training required (e.g., food safety, food waste etc.), but after five months they were looking after the truck without me. So that’s been a big win.
4. Who has been your most important professional mentor?
Scott: “I previously worked in the Hambleton Hall restaurant, near Leicester. It was a lovely team, but I had the same difficulties – arriving at work with just a simple thumbs up and then I’m there for a whole shift – but the team were very respectful. They’d give up some of their time to come and talk to me and we’d type notes on our mobile phones and pass them back and forth to communicate.”
One person, Michelin star chef Aaron Peterson, and his two head chefs really made Scott feel at home.
“The opportunities they gave me to learn and develop were just so many – it was a wonderful experience.”
5. Where do you plan to take your business next?
Scott: “I’m hoping to work with councils and landlords to get more areas to work in and expand across London. So, we can bring more deaf people into employment and offer them independence. The aim is to get 10 food trucks and have about 30 deaf people working for us in 2024.”
6. What’s your favourite dish on your menu?
Scott: “The Japanese Parmo. I come from Teesside and that’s something the North-East are famous for. Normally, you have it with chicken and some bechamel sauce on it and some cheese, but people don’t have the time to sit down. So, it was adapting that into a burger which worked well.
“I have travelled around the world in my career and Japan was one country that I absolutely loved. I fell in love with the freshness of the food, and I thought how can I incorporate it into some of the food that I’m doing with the parmo? Because the parmo is something that’s always the same. So, how can we make it exciting in a different way? Now it’s become a completely different experience.”
In a highly competitive industry, Scott’s purpose-driven business is walking the walk and showing others how to blend passion with purpose. BSL (British Sign Language) has recently been recognised as an official language in England. With all UK schools potentially offering a BSL GCSE by 2025, it’s becoming more mainstream, and Scott is channelling this with added foodie pizzazz with his Punk Chef trucks. Proving that food is not only a platform for people to connect but a universal language that’s inclusive and, of course, down-right delicious.
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