Meet the Vox Head Chef Aaron Johnson
Aaron started his Amadeus career at The International Convention Centre (ICC) and studied under Executive Head Chef Simon Hellier who has been with the company since the early 1990s. It was obvious in those early days that Aaron possessed the leadership skills, natural cooking ability and a creative spark to be running an operation. Simon’s experience helped unleash this talent and it therefore came as no surprise to the Amadeus family that Aaron was chosen to head up the newly created Vox. Aaron explains this powerful journey into the technologically advanced, cutting edge conference centre in Resorts World Birmingham,
“We mobilised the new site in 2015 and I overcame various challenges but enjoyed every single bit. We have been building a reputation since day one and delivering a quality food offer to exceed customer expectations. We ensure the food is kept fresh and current and this is enhanced by first class service. The Vox is in many ways the sister venue for the ICC so when we originally opened we kept the same menus for around six months. It was important to set a solid foundation stone on a proven offer and then start to build its own identity. We brought on new chefs and as the team gelled we received countless pieces of feedback from happy customers.
“I spent five years working at the ICC and this transition allowed me to find my feet and it was reassuring to always have my mentor Simon around in case I needed a helping hand. I grew during this process and now I’m creating the Vox’s own identity through individual menu packs and allowing my personality to shine. I will always be grateful for Simon for his experience and wisdom. He encouraged me to always improve and pushed me out of my comfortable zone many times. I feel truly alive with the shackles off and the free movement for menu creation makes all the hard work worth it.”
Aaron has developed creativity at the Vox by personalising the menus and developing his own handpicked team. He thanks those around him who have superb attention to detail and bring new ideas all the time. Aaron now feels incredibly fortunate to be able to craft his own food story at the leading venue. He writes all the recipes and places his own spin on the dishes. Whether he’s selecting a certain cut of meat, using a different cooking technique or sourcing local produce.
Aaron also helped open Belfast Waterfront after Amadeus secured a £16 million contract over five years for the Waterfront and Ulster Hall in Northern Ireland. “I was newly married and doubted my own abilities at being able to open such a prestigious venue. However I went for it and I spent six months enjoying every single moment. Overcoming every challenge that was thrown at me was thrilling. My personal development was enhanced and I took immense pride in opening the venue and bringing in a new team to lead the operation under Amadeus. I have a very strong connection to that part of the world now and still go over to cover holidays when needed. It was fascinating to be over there because part of the brief from the client was a need to support local suppliers – which we all fully agree with – but also the very small ones. This is very important but does take a lot more work in terms of sourcing them and supporting where needed. I was used to larger contacts so it was a bit of a shock but in a good way. We developed some delicious enhanced menus working with these suppliers. I have certainly taken this experience with me into the Vox.”
Aaron has always been around food. His parents owned restaurants and he was cooking from the very early age of 13. His passions grew for this world and after tireless efforts he worked at maze in Mayfair, London. The renowned Gordon Ramsay restaurant was run by a very inspiring, now household name chef. Aaron remembers his early days, “Jason Atherton opened many restaurants globally for the company and was an incredible person to be in the kitchen with. He’s huge now and I remember cooking alongside him and learning so much. Never have I seen someone so driven to perfection. He was the nicest guy who could meet out of service, he’d help out anyone if they needed it. But when that first check came in he became this highly disciplined and passionate leader. It was brutal at times. But if you live and breathe this world you know it all stems down to a hunger to be the best. If anything you did wasn’t perfect, a pan would be chucked towards your head! He really set me on a journey on what I wanted to achieve. I’m not that kind of person in the kitchen but I always strive to perfection in my own style. I always want to be as close as possible.”
Restaurants and foodservice are different areas of hospitality but Aaron argues that the buzz and drive is always there in the right kitchen. No matter if it’s a private dinner for 12 or a banquet for 800, there is a need to provide the very best.
The Vox is, in many ways, still the new kid on the block. It’s forward thinking and a highly creative conference centre. Aaron is supported by knowing that the people around him are driven by the same hunger. He explains, “We are fortunate to have an incredible Front of House team at the Vox which is led by General Manager, Emma Pattie. We both love to keep things fresh and she is just as passionate as me when it comes to the customer experience. We joined around the same time and so my achievements are strongly intertwined with hers. Front and Back of House can at times be divided but we are always communicating which is essential.” This relationship also allows Aaron to bring out further creativity, safe in the knowledge that bespoke menus will be backed by quality service. Recently we held a sporting event which was all about table tennis. We created food to match the sport but also used lots of props and different settings to really provide an all-consuming experience. We always trying to push boundaries and today I’m confident the food offer is always the best so now we need to break into other dimensions.”
“This can be as simple as the display equipment which is at times forgotten about. We hold events which include street food offers and go beyond the traditional dish. For example we may provide a Mexican or Japanese station for event attendees. I work closely with the Front of House team to ensure they know exactly what everything is and why it’s displayed in a certain way. I then place a chef behind the station so they can inform the guest and bring more theatre to the experience. This is important because often chefs in foodservice may not see what they have created. It’s passed onto the waiting team and so they never witness the guests delight in the food. If you’re heart and soul goes into something, you do need that interaction.”
“I’m always researching the latest trends and eat out a lot to taste and sample what’s in the market. It’s important to read and observe what other chefs are doing and quite a few post about it online and on social media. I also have chefs approaching me to ask about the dishes I’m sending out and the equipment I’m using. That’s always highly rewarding to know your pushing the boundaries and its being recognised.”
For the future Aaron wants the Vox to remain as one of the market leaders and always enhance contemporary food offers with the latest food trends. “I’m avoiding all restrictions to guarantee a quality experience for the customers. We always want to be one step in front of the market and raise the bar. I firmly believe that you also eat with your eyes and so that’s always important for us – whether through props, secret twists or the overall dining environment. It has to be exciting.”