I catch up with Diego Masciaga, director and general manager of the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, who was recently awarded a Cavaliere al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, a knighthood by the Italian government.
Congratulations on your Italian knighthood. How do you feel?
I’m extremely proud. It’s not an industry award but has come from the Italian Government so it’s a really big honour. Normally this type of award is given to people who are much older and in fields like medicine or the church or CEOs of big corporations so it really came as such a big surprise.
What was the award in recognition of?
I’ve worked in this industry for 35 years and for the past 25 years at the Waterside Inn, I have helped a lot of young people from all over Europe. We train them not only in service and how to be professional but we also provide them with vital life skills like attitude and respect.
How did you find out about it?
In Italy they don’t send letters and instead they sent a telegraph to the local police station in the little village where my parents live. Two police officers then went to my parents’ house to deliver it and naturally my mother got the shock of her life when they arrived. When she called me to tell me she could hardly speak.
Did you have to be nominated to get this award?
Yes but I have no idea who nominated me. It couldn’t have been someone from the hospitality industry but would have had to have been someone from within the Italian Government. Perhaps it was a guest from the Waterside Inn, I really don’t know. But I’m hoping to find out when I go for my award ceremony in Italy.
Why would you encourage young people to choose a career in service?
It’s really important for young people to understand that service is not just a job, it’s a profession. It’s about so much more than clearing plates and you can have some amazing opportunities in this industry. I once spent a few nights inside the Kremlin when Michel Roux was asked to cook for Boris Jelzin; I have met members of the Royal family and all sorts of celebrities doing my job.
What do you think needs to be done to improve service in this country?
Michel Roux Jr’s programme the Art of Service did a lot to raise awareness but it seems like it’s fading again now. I think there’s too much focus on chefs but as Heston Blumenthal said, good service can repair bad food but good food can’t repair bad service. Managers have a responsibility to be visible on the floor, lead by example and train their staff. Too many of them are holed up inside an office.