Interview: Amanda Afiya (August 2019)

[Above: Amanda with chef John Campbell at the Foodservice Cateys]

Amanda grew up in Surrey, attending the prestigious City of London Freemen’s School in Ashtead.  Having achieved seven O’Level (GCE) passes, Amanda was encouraged by her parents to enrol at Pitman’s Secretarial College in Wimbledon.  While it was an intensive course, with up to three hours short hand every day, plus two hours at night, Amanda enjoyed the process and passed with flying colours.  Ironically, parallel to the secretarial course was one in journalism, which Amanda possibly would not have met the qualification bar for entry.  In March 1986, when close to graduation, Amanda applied for a secretarial role to the front of house manager (advertised in the Evening Standard) at the THF Heritage Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge (now the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park).  The upside of the job was that it felt like being behind the scenes of a stage production, a role that certainly whetted the appetite for the industry. 

After a year,
Amanda moved to make her first appearance at The Caterer, which was in a
secretarial capacity on the advertising side, then after another year and followed
by a stint of traveling, she returned to Reed Business Information (RBI) publications with ‘Restaurateur’ and ‘Pub
Caterer’ again as a PA to the Advertising Director. In 1990, Amanda started at The
Caterer as secretary to the first female editor in their then 112 year history
(founded 1878), years later Amanda was to become only the second female editor
of the magazine. With her high standard of shorthand, Amanda was able to
support certain members of the 25-strong editorial team by calling people on
their behalf, asking agreed questions and making notes.  Amanda would write these up verbatim from
which the journalist could more simply write copy and hit a deadline.  This proved a skill that would stand her in
good stead later as a researcher. 

The recession
at the turn of the ‘90s meant
RBI put the brakes on graduate recruitment but they still had a first-class
graduate training programme.  As a
result, they decided to open up this training to those in-house and over the
next few years Amanda found herself effectively PTC trained having attended
courses in news reporting, sub-editing, feature writing, as well as legal
courses.  In June 1993, a sub-editing
role on the production desk became available and through a tough learning curve
she became very quick at passing through corrections to proofs from the section
heads.  There were four sub editors and
two designers, however through a variety of circumstances (such as maternity or
sickness), the business was unable to provide cover, and, as a result, Amanda
and the production editor found themselves working 7.30am to 9.30pm every working day. 

slowly earned her stripes on the production desk, Amanda was able to take her
first proper writing and reporting role on the chef desk and remembers a calming
drink prior to interviewing Gary Rhodes as she thought every chef would reduce
a journalist to tears, but gratefully learned that there was a more gentle
variety.  Over the following years,
Amanda covered virtually every editorial team role. 

[Amanda with Mark Sargeant, the year he cooked for the Cateys, 2015]

In 2002, Amanda’s
work came to national attention when Simon Wright, then editor of the AA Restaurant
Guide, confided in her regarding what was to become “The Petrus Scandal”. Marcus
Wareing’s Petrus, co-owned with Gordon Ramsay, was in St James’ Street at the
time that the AA Restaurant Guide were promoting the restaurant to five rosettes.  Prior to the official announcement, Roger
Wood, MD of The AA, had booked a table for six at short notice, but when
personally checking the arrangements immediately prior to the visit, was
dis-satisfied. Mr Wood subsequently went back to The AA and personally
intervened in the awarding of the promotion. 
Simon Wright stood by the ethical decisions made by his professional
inspectors and resigned.  After significant
media pressure, The AA reversed their decision and awarded the five rosettes.  The Caterer broke the story, backed by a
significant paper trail of memos and emails that had been provided by the
resigning editor to Amanda, in what was to be the hospitality trade story of
the decade.

During her
early days, some time in 1994, Amanda had interviewed Gordon Ramsay and being of
similar age they got on well, regularly speaking, with Gordon offering
occasional tip offs of stories. She developed a similar relationship with Jason
Atherton when he had worked for Stephen Terry in Frith Street.  It was like they all grew up together during
those early times.  So when later working
on The Petrus story (for three months) she had agreed with Simon Wright that as
soon as he told Gordon Ramsay about the situation, he would effectively lose
control of the story, meaning that it would break via The Evening Standard and
then onto the nationals.  So with mutual
trust, Caterer only went to press with Simon Wright’s blessing, which was on a
Tuesday, appearing on newsstands on the Thursday and was the only publication
to be able to source verbatim internal discussions that backed the story.

Previously, in
Amanda had met chief inspector David Young of The AA at an inspectors’
conference and subsequently went on an inspection visit with him to the River
Café.  David had been at the AA for 18 years when he left in 2002 and so having known both
him and Simon Wright, Amanda was naturally a little wary of where she stood
with the guide after their departure. 
The emerging triumvirate of Gordon Cartwright, Simon Numphud and
Giovanna Grossi, who were taking the AA forward, may have offered a different

[Above: Amanda with the late, great Andrew Fairlie, who she knew and relied upon for advice for much of her career – pictured with former Caterer colleagues Kerstin Kuhn (left) and Katherine Alano (right) and chef Matt Gillan (far left), who is currently opening his solo venture Heritage in Slaugham, West Sussex]

By 2003, Amanda
had already been with the Caterer for thirteen years when the position of
managing editor became available.  She
and Mark Lewis both went for the role and Mark was to take the position for the
next 11 years.  Amanda’s feeling was to be
indispensible to Mark.  She and Mark had complementary
skills – she had come through the magazine and had a detailed hands-on view of
editing, whereas, in his new role, Mark could afford to be more strategic.  Amanda became editor in 2014 when Mark became
publisher.  At this time, she was also
looking after the Cateys, the Hotel Cateys and Foodservice Cateys, Hotelier of
the Year, the Acorn Awards, various forums and conferences so it was a big
responsibility – Writing speeches and making public addresses became, to begin
with, a forced fit but necessarily on-going part of the role.

[Above: Amanda, third left, on a trip to Noma (February
2017, just before it closed to relocate) with several members of the
Royal Academy of Culinary Arts including Phil Howard, Brian Turner,
Martyn Nail from Claridge’s and John Williams of the Ritz]

When Amanda left Caterer in October 2017, the first person to offer her work was Michelin two-starred chef Sat Bains, who suggested that she could do his restaurant PR.  While she had known Sat since 1999 and it was true she had a number of media contacts, those contacts were in a completely different context to moving forward a client’s PR strategy.  Having always lacked a degree of self-confidence with a healthy in-built fear of failure, Amanda felt it made more sense for an established PR to be behind Sat Bains.  She had known that Jo Barnes and Nicky Hancock of Sauce Communications were long-time admirers of Sat and would be both delighted and capable of managing his account.  So, with Amanda fronting a pitch, the relationship with Sat was established. 

At the same time, Amanda had taken a non-exec directorship on the board of hospitality recruitment specialists Cartwheel, as well as a six month contract in an ambassadorial and writing role at The Caterer. She continues to write for The Caterer today. Testament to the high regard Amanda is held within the hospitality industry, she continued to represent bodies which she is proud to give back her time to support.  These included chairing the fundraising and marketing committee for Hospitality Action, sitting on the fundraising committee for Adopt a School (for which she is also a trustee), a judge for the Cateys and The Acorns (previous chef winners of the 30 under 30 Acorn Award have included Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race, Jason Atherton and Gary Rhodes).  So despite having moved with her family to Tavistock, she would continue to be doing an amount of travelling up to London as well as throughout the UK.  As Jo and Nicky were delighted to have Sat Bains as a client, they suggested that Amanda might write inspection reports on their clients’ properties, which could coincide with her visits to London. A win-win and so began the arrangement from which Sauce Intelligence was developed.

Fast forward to
the present and Sauce Intelligence has a full-function, custom-built, state-of-the-art
technology platform to facilitate client engagements, the development of which
was funded by Sauce Communications.  A client
project is a four-step process, first the consultation to fully understand the
client, their goals, brand standards and objectives.  Second is an audit to assess all areas of the
guest experience.  Third is comprehensive
reporting from multiple and on going mystery guests visits, against a bespoke
reporting structure with tailored performance analytics to understand how the
business is meeting its own objectives.  A
significant part of that is gathering emotional intelligence ‘how did
particular elements of the stay at the property make you feel’ and this can be
a key differentiator for operators.  Finally,
solutions that may range from a raft of training options to refocus the staff
on meeting brand objectives and cultural values through to recruitment, media
and PR – a one-stop-shop solution offering to the hotel and restaurant

This is
something that is very exciting to Amanda and she is thrilled to be a key part
of it going forward.  Amanda has clearly
broken boundaries in her career and set and passed standards that are to be
admired.  No doubt the current venture
will be approached with the same vigour, passion and enthusiasm that has
characterised Amanda throughout her career.  Best of luck and wishing her well into the

from Fine Dining Guide