‘I’m still waiting for that big break…’ (Picture: Patricia Tobin/Metro.co.uk)

Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career journey series.

This week we’re appealing to foodies, as we chat to Tony Kitous, the founder of Comptoir Libanais, a Lebanese restaurant chain in London.

Tony is 51 years old and still feels like he’s at the beginning of his career.

He got into cooking because of his mother and has continued to look close to home for culinary inspiration.

He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘When my mum wasn’t at home, I would go to the kitchen as a kid and make a quick shakshuka with lot of eggs, after watching her do it.’

But working in food isn’t easy – and Tony has faced lots of setbacks to get to where he is today.

He still feels he hasn’t ‘made it’.

We chatted with Tony about his career journey.

Hey Tony. When did you first get into cooking?

I have been into cooking since I was a little kid.

I was always inspired by the dishes which my mum made for me.

Was it always natural to you?

When I was younger, cooking was more for satisfying my own cravings – I always cooked for me and not for others.

Tony’s food (Picture: Patricia Tobin)

At what point did you start to want to cook for others, not just for yourself?

After I moved to London, I started cooking for myself and my friends, as my mother wasn’t around.

I then started cooking at a restaurant because I understood the nature of my food and my culture and I wanted to share that.

Did you do any formal training?

I didn’t do any formal training as a such. I started out in catering by working my way through a few different restaurants then opened my first restaurant on Wigmore Street at the age of 22.

Hard at work (Picture: Patricia Tobin)

Did you have a mentor? How did you know you were a good enough chef to open your own restaurant so young? 

I still don’t know if I’m good!

My friend’s mothers are my mentors.

I always invite myself to their places to try something new and discover different dishes and styles of cooking and recipes especially when I travel to places such as Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and all over the Middle East.

At that age, I was very naive and stubborn. Confidence comes from within especially when you are young – and I at 22 was a big dreamer.

I was probably more confident at 22 than I am now.  

Did you face any barriers getting into the industry?

There were so many barriers.

In the beginning lack of experience, cashflow problems, I didn’t understand what our customers wanted so didn’t have many customers, not having money to pay wages and not having funds to hire the best people was also a problem.

I never understood why all the other restaurants had great press coverage.

But I was persistent!

Did you have any big breaks in getting to where you are now?

I’m still waiting for that big break…

What keeps you motivated? Especially as you feel you haven’t had a big break yet.

My dream keeps me motivated.

Every time I get closer to my dream, my dream becomes bigger so I feel I have a long way to go.

I continue to learn every day and I feel have so much I want to still do – it feels like I’ve just started.

An average day in the working life of Tony Kitous

6am: Tony wakes up early to make a bulletproof coffee, then eat fresh ginger with olivera extract.

7: He hits the gym.

8am: He goes through his emails and texts, planning his day.

9am-8pm: Calls to various people, including suppliers, colleagues, designers, contractors and meetings in between.

Yum (Picture: Patricia Tobin)

Tony says: ‘In my role, no two days are the same. From daily problem solving which is a big part of the job to travelling to Morocco and the Middle East to meet artisans and suppliers.’

Is food hard to get into? Is it a lot about who you know?

Yes, it’s bloody hard!

I still feel I’m an outsider. I didn’t know anybody in the industry at first, I just worked harder and harder to focus on our customers and building our team to deliver the vision I have for Comptoir Libanais.

I don’t believe it’s about who you know – that might help but you have to work hard at making things happen.

More: Food

What do you love about your job?

I love everything about my job.

Hospitality is about welcoming people, which is a huge part of our culture.

I also really enjoy creating new menu ideas.

What do you dislike?

I don’t like people being rude to restaurant staff.

Mohammad Ali once said: ‘I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter. Because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position.’

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