Ahmet Kurcer, general manager of the Alderley Edge Hotel
PUBLISHED: 00:08 28 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:45 26 April 2016
From Istanbul's Golden Horn to Cheshire's 'Golden Triangle', the career of Ahmet Kurcer, genial general manager of the Alderley Edge Hotel, has never lacked lustre
Ahmet Kurcer has been at the helm of the Alderley Edge Hotel - one of the county’s leading luxury hotels - from the outset, and he has maintained its enviable reputation for hospitality for more than a quarter of a century. That’s no mean achievement: the fickle taste of the public means many good hotels and restaurants come and go.
But one of the most remarkable aspects of the Alderley Edge, enabling the hotel to deliver exemplary levels of service with such an outstanding degree of consistency, is the experience and loyalty of its key retainers, all of a whose talents have been nurtured in-house over a number of years and seeing the developing skills of the people around him is today what gives Ahmet the most pleasure.
His policy of encouraging ‘home-grown’ staff has constantly been rewarded, not least when the Alderley Restaurant, domain of Chris Holland, was awarded three AA Rosettes for ‘exceptional standards of cuisine’. Greater Manchester-born Chris, appointed head chef eight years ago, has been working in the hotel’s kitchen for 16 years.
‘It’s not unusual for restaurants to grow their own ingredients – and we grow our own herbs in the gardens behind the hotel – but we also ‘grow’ our own staff,”’Ahmet said at the time. ‘We give them opportunities, nurture their professional growth and now we can harvest the fruits of their talent. We often go to renowned places elsewhere in the UK and discuss what we’ve experienced among ourselves. We look - but never copy!’
It is perhaps indicative of just how much trust and respect Chris commands as a chef that with the restaurant full on a recent occasion, eighty per cent of diners had opted for his tasting menus. ‘In his time here he has become an outstanding chef who has raised the bar for fine food menus,’ added Ahmet.
Like Chris, deputy general manager Jamie Thistleton has climbed the promotional ladder within the hotel, in his case over 14 years, and Joanne Plant, Ahmet’s personal assistant, has clocked up two decades there.
Ahmet, 62, left hotel college in his native Istanbul in 1969 and worked for a time in hotels in Germany before returning to Turkey where he met his wife Lynda who was on holiday there. They married in England in 1972 and lived in Turkey for a short time until Ahmet took his first job in the UK at Manchester’s Hotel Piccadilly.
The modernistic hotel, opened just a few years before, was in its golden era. The closing credits of the BBC’s Dee Time, a chat show watched by 14m viewers, featured the late DJ and presenter Simon Dee and a blonde model driving down the spiral ramp from the hotel’s rooftop car park in an open-top E-type Jaguar; it was one of the visual clichés of the age.
‘Anyone who was anyone, including members of the Royal Family went there,’ recalls Ahmet. ‘And it was a major venue for boxing at the time.’ His stint at the Piccadilly was interrupted by the call of duty from Turkey as he was called up for national service and spent almost two years in uniform, becoming a sergeant. ‘It was important to me because it taught me discipline and probably helped direct my life towards management.’
He returned to the Hotel Piccadilly for a short spell, then moved across the road to the Britannia Hotel, opened in 1982. From there he was head-hunted to join general manager John Buttery at the nearby Portland Hotel, and Ahmet once more found himself in the middle of a golden era. Partly because of the lengthy closure of Manchester’s Midland Hotel for major refurbishment and partly because of the sheer brio and extravagance of the late 1980s, the Portland became the epicentre of the city’s hedonistic social scene, where the glitterati from the worlds of show business, football and commerce collided.
The corks popped and the whisky flowed; star-studded champagne luncheons often lasted into the night. Ahmet became a regular visitor to France, building key contacts among the great wine and champagne houses. ‘Mr Manchester’s Bar in the Portland had 365 whiskies - one for every day of the year,’ he said, ‘and that frequently took me to Scotland to visit the best distilleries.
‘It was a big challenge at the Portland - it was the hub of everything at was happening in the city - but they were exciting times and Which? magazine rated us second best in Europe. I was lucky to work for Scottish and Newcastle, which owned the Portland at the time, because they sent me on all their management courses, which proved invaluable. And the late 1980s was really the start for English people really appreciating good food and drink.’
It was at the Portland that Ahmet also came into contact with members of the J W Lees brewing family whose associated wine business, Willoughby’s, supplied the hotel and many others in the city centre. And when the company bought what was to become the Alderley Edge Hotel, a fine but run-down Victorian property with views over the Cheshire plain, it was to John Buttery and Ahmet the Lees family turned to create a high quality, luxury country house hotel.
Almost immediately, however, the boom years evaporated as the UK economy dived over a cliff. But Ahmet, soon promoted to general manager, proved an astute operator. The early days saw the building a the conservatory Alderley Restaurant which has since forged its reputation as one of the very best in Cheshire, its Rosettes putting it into the UK’s top ten per cent.
Under Ahmet’s guidance, the original 32 rooms and suites have increased to 50 and the opening of the Laurent Perrier Suite with direct access to the hotel’s enclosed gardens - where an underground hot water pipe provides a micro-climate for rare sub-tropical plants - makes the hotel a sought-after wedding venue. The success of the casual-dining Brasserie - the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ - launched 18 months ago, has exceeded expectations.
‘It’s doing an amazing job for us, said Ahmet, who added that he was lucky to have made so many good friends in England, not least members of Manchester’s footballing “nobility” of both persuasions. He has also maintained close relationships with the great houses of Champagne and the Alderley Edge’s Champagne Oscars - conceived by Ahmet and former Cheshire Life editor Patrick O’Neill and now in its 13th year - is one of the most celebrated events in the social calendar not only here, but also over in northern France. “It’s very exciting for them to have something like this,” said Ahmet.
The father of two daughters and a grandfather three times over - ‘two girls and a boy’, he says proudly - has no notion of retirement any time soon, though he does relish quality time with the family at their summer house on the coast in Izmir. n