To many of us, Oliver Peyton is the often overly-critical judge on the increasingly-popular TV show, The Great British Menu. But he’s much more to the hospitality industry than that, a fact that has been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list for this year with the Irish-born entrepreneur being awarded an OBE for his services to an industry that, by his own admission, has served him well, too.
His UK career started not so much in cookery trade as the critic and restaurateur we know of today, but in a the far-removed vein of the same industry of running nightclubs. In the eighties, when he’d have not been so old himself, he ran both Brighton’s The Can nightclub and RAW in the capital.
It seemed a natural springboard then, once he’d dipped his entrepreneurial toe into the drinks supply consumer-end of the market, to step up a level and import beverages for resale onto others within the trade. His distribution and promotions network is accredited with bringing both Sapporo, the Japanese beer named after the city in which it originated and a spirit that needs no introduction, Absolut Vodka.
In the nineties, Peyton’s career emigrated from wet sales to dry as he opened the Atlantic Bar & Grill in London’s West End, his first restaurant (closed 2005). During his time there, he latched onto the notion that the world was about to begin being conscious of from where its food was sourced and the effect upon the planet that the food we ate had. The result was St James’ Park’s ‘Inn The Park’, a restaurant recognised for both its original architecture and its eco-friendly values.
Peyton and Byrne, the partnership of which Oliver is both Founder and Chairman of, are now the leading lights in providing open-air dining experiences, a trait all too familiar with anyone who watches The Great British Menu. After several regional heats, four chefs are chosen to invent, prepare and deliver in feast-sized quantities the dish of their creating to an open-air extravaganza for whichever cause is the beneficiary of that season’s show.
But the tall, gaunt Irishman with incisive wit does not stop at bringing the best out of the nation’s chefs. The Peyton & Byrne brand owns bakeries and cafes and Peyton Events is his own foray into providing exclusive dining facilities to some of London’s finest establishments. In typical fashion, when asked of his reaction to be awarded such a special accolade, he said it was ‘the icing on the cake’ to his wonderful career in an industry to which he is both indebted and that owes him a great debt of gratitude for his foresight and services to it, too.