It did not take me long to assess the character of thirty-eight-year-old Christopher Hammett, the newly appointed CEO of Corinthia Caterers. His poise, genuine smile, lucid mind and the way he enthusiastically led me through his life and experiences convinced me he is a very open and amiable professional.
“I am very passionate about my work. And you know what? I would rather have a passionate argument with someone than get an answer: It’s OK if you say so.” Christopher referred to the passion he could discern in his colleagues at Corinthia Caterers. He is bent on frank, open discussion leading to one final direction. “We discuss candidly and passionately. Some may not be in full agreement, but before we leave the room, we decide what action to take. And that would be our common and collective way forward.”
Christopher confessed he was looking forward to this new adventure. “These are exciting times, and I am confident I shall teach and learn, acquire and share. It’s too early for me to say what mark I shall leave. I only started officially a few weeks ago.”
I wondered if he always had catering in his blood and if it was his desired vocation. He smiled and confessed that his first interest was computer science. I gulped. Computer science is a world apart from catering! He nodded. “That’s what I started studying. But you’re right! I quickly discovered that I could not spend hours facing a computer screen. So I decided to look elsewhere.
“I started some business, selling and buying goods. Then I felt I should join my family’s business in wholesale and retail clothing. I took care of the retail side only after experiencing more basic duties, such as goods delivery. It’s so proper to start from the lower ranks. Slowly, I moved forward, and after a few years, I took care of a few shops.
“For several years, I had entertained my friends at home and cooked lunches and dinners for them. I enjoyed it, and my parents were all game. The desire to take up catering seeped stealthily but surely in me.
“Then, at 21, I decided to take the plunge and do my own thing. I told my parents I wanted to go to London to study catering and work there.”
That must have been a blow for his parents. How did they take it? “My mother was devastated. She did not want me to leave home like most mothers, I guess. My father’s reaction was the opposite. He urged me to follow my mind’s directions and realise my dreams.”
Christopher was adamant about getting a good grounding, so he attended a diploma course in London with Cordon Bleu, the world-famous hospitality and culinary school. Its name means blue ribbon, referring to the blue ribbon or sash worn by the Chevaliers du Saint-Esprit, the highest order of knighthood under the Bourbon kings. This school has a worldwide presence in 20 countries with over 20,000 students.
“The course took nine months and was very intensive, but I enjoyed every minute.
“Then I started my first job at Galvin’s with the Galvin Brothers, who now run some six restaurants.”
How was this first experience? Chris smiled and recollected that it was a bustling restaurant and learnt a lot, but then added: “My ego got slammed. When you are out in the arena, life is different, and what you thought you knew perfectly well shrinks to a small percentage of what you need to know to grow. It was, therefore, also a personal maturity curve.
“One year later, I moved to Harrod’s, which has about 30 restaurants; I worked at ‘The George’, a fine dining restaurant on the rooftop. There again, I gained tons of experience.
“After some time, I yearned to move on to new pastures. One of the chefs recommended me to Chef Pascal Aussignac, who ran a small french restaurant, Club Gascon. The Michelin star-winning Pascal Aussignac’s name is synonymous with ‘la cuisine de Gascogne’. There I experienced a very experimental kitchen, using many varied techniques. Very scientific! Very cool! I remember well, we even had the team of chefs from the iconic Fat Duck Restaurant, which is one of the top three in the world.”
Was it a demanding life? Christopher nodded vigorously, meaning it certainly was, but quickly added that it was exhilarating. “I was, however, yearning for a break when a friend who was opening a pastry shop asked me if I could prepare and manage her lunches. That suited me fine, but I added one condition: she was to teach me baking cakes, including wedding cakes and cookies.”
Was it a suitable arrangement? It was, but he knew it was a temporary filling-in. So she readily accepted when, after some time, he was offered a Sous Chef position which then turned into his first post as a Head Chef at the Duke of Cambridge, which at the time was the only wholly organic restaurant certified by the Soil Association. “It was based on sustainability. We only used line–caught fish caught by day boats; it tends to be of better quality than trawled or netted fish as it suffers less stress and damage during capture. We used only local organic fruit, vegetables and meat from a nearby farm. It was a challenge, especially in winter, when the choice and variety were limited. I learnt a lot about food preservation methods and techniques.
“Every venture is a symbiosis. You offer your passion and work and leave your mark, but simultaneously enrich yourself with new knowledge and experiences.”
At 26, Christopher returned to Malta to start a family life and continue his adventure on the Island. The then owner of the ‘Villa Brasserie Restaurant’ insistently urged him to join him asap. “I accepted and eventually bought the business managing it for close to nine years, yielding promising results and earning an excellent reputation. We offered an à la carte menu and serviced different functions and events. We were multi-functional: weddings, birthday parties. Once again, it was a super learning curve.
“In December 2016, during a staff party for Von Der Heyden Group, I hit it off with the owner and chairman, Sven Von Der Heyden, and we met again in 2017. We decided to open a business together and launched the Hammett collection.
“I was shown the Maċina, a fabulous place. Its rooftop was an excellent venue for events. We opened ‘Hammett Gastrobar’, ‘Macina Restaurant’ and the ‘Sheer Bastion’. In 2020, we opened ‘Mestizo’ (a South American concept), and in 2022 we launched ‘Monastik’, which is based on sustainability.”
When did Corinthia enter the scene? “Last year, I met with Simon Naudi and his team and eventually with Rueben Xuereb, who, besides being chairman of QP, is now also chairman of Corinthia Caterers. We got on and hit it. We agreed that I should start working and, in the process, get to know each other. If there is marriage material, let us celebrate.”
Quite a handful to retain the Hammett restaurants and manage Corinthia Caterers! But then, Christopher is still young and rearing with dynamism and an urge to succeed, learn more and leave his mark. “ It was no easy decision. I did not for a moment doubt Corinthia. I was mainly sussing myself hard. I remembered my throbs and thrills in all my earlier experiences, and in the end, the challenge excited me.
“Every year, I say to myself, I want to ease my pressure, but I never manage. The drive in me still rages hard. When, way back, I started my adventure, I was naive and did not realise how demanding catering life is. But I have a burning passion that provides the fuel to help me move forward enthusiastically.
“In my Corinthia adventure, I had decided to split the year into four quarters; learning; starting to get everyone together; implementing; and finally assessing progress and evaluating for next year. However, in practice, life cannot be boxed into compartments. In fact, I feel that, if possible, systems which need trimming and revision and may be introduced without waiting, should not protract further unnecessarily.
“I try my hardest to make decisions collegial. Changes become owned by all. And everyone feels part of the developing process.”
Did he find any particularly strong feelings in his new colleagues at work? “What impresses me is their acute culture of belonging. They feel like owners and hence participate more deeply. There is a sense of accountability and wanting to do better, which engenders serenity at work and a common cause to create and move forward.
“In the end, all this is a creative process, which I love.”
When he spoke of the Corinthia family, I could trace a twinkle in his eyes, so I asked him about his children. “ I have four sons, from 4 to 10 years old: Jack, Alan, Dean and Hugh. One cardinal rule is to dedicate quality time to them. I love and thoroughly enjoy their company, and I jealously guard my time with them against intrusion. The eldest is my carbon copy; the second looks more like his mother’s side of the family, and the others are a wonderful mixture. Like me, they adore football, and I make it a point to watch matches with them.
“We had a football match recently between parents and coaches. I naturally joined in and gave my all. My children cheered me vociferously. The parents’ team won, but the follow-up was different. The coaches continued their work without interruption. Some parents, me included, could not wake up from bed the next day.”
Ultimately, I confirmed Christopher was the person I had initially assessed.
Accessible and amenable. “It could prove to be tiring since I tend to overstretch myself. I ask my colleagues to feel free to call .”
Energetic and hands-on. “I am not office-bound at all; my car is my office. I love the groundwork and need to be there. So I visit all our operations. Getting the feel is essential.”
All-inclusive and a good listener. “It is essential to listen to others, whatever the rank. It enhances one’s own judgment and at the same time generates a belief that the other person forms part of the creative process.”
Passionate. “Without passion, work becomes drudgery. Passion oils our spirit and strengthens our muscles, mind and spirit. It turns everyday work into an exciting process and transforms problems into stimulating surmountable hurdles.
A food connoisseur. “I love my food and my drink, naturally, with moderation. They are sometimes my best relaxants.”
Part of the Corinthia family? “Most certainly, yes. And I look forward with confidence and excitement.”