Stephenson Harwood has been attracting more than its fair share of lateral hires in recent times.
While no one would doubt that the new partners are impressed by the firm’s drive, ambition and profitability, there could be another key ingredient that has convinced them to make the move: the aromas wafting out of Mick Hale’s kitchen.
Hale has become a part of the furniture at Stephenson Harwood, having fried his first onion for the City firm 13 years ago. As head chef, his lovingly prepared client lunches and partnership buffets have become the stuff of legend.
In a kitchen staffed only by Hale and his commis chef Kat Malone-Lee, he caters for up to 130 covers a day in addition to the canapés he prepares for evening events and seminars.
“I don’t like to say it, but a lot of people come to our seminars and events because they know they’ll get good food,” says a modest Hale.
But despite the variety of gastronomical treats served up by Hale, it is the humble cocktail sausage that really excites his loyal customers.
“I don’t think that much of them,” he laughs. “I just cook them with a bit of mint and honey, but I think I’d be lynched if I didn’t do them.”
Another favourite with the partners is Friday’s regular helping of fish and chips.
“They queue to get in on a Friday,” says Hale. “They all come up at one o’clock and sometimes there’s none left soon after.”
Managing partner Sharon White recognises that Hale is one of the firm’s prize assets.
“I think I’d get a lot of angry calls if he left,” she says. “When we invite people in for lunch they’re always keen to come back, and the fish and chips is a bit of an institution.”
But having travelled the globe as a chef, Hale’s repertoire is much wider than just cocktail sausages and fish and chips.
He started his career 30 years ago in his native Yorkshire and has since taken his kitchen on a world tour that has included stints in Jersey, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He even worked as the cook on a dive boat in the Indian Ocean.
“There were things we cooked with there that, to this day, I still don’t know what they are,” he says. “Locals would come out to the boat with towers of tomatoes and things and we used to barter for them with diving masks.”
Hale initially returned to London “for a holiday” and ended up staying to start a family. He initially took at job at the Cabinet Office – “it’s easier cooking for lawyers than politicians” – in the last two years of John Major’s government, before leaving for Stephenson Harwood days before the 1997 election.
While his latest job does not usually involve anything as exotic as the mystery vegetables of Papua New Guinea, there have been one or two strange client requests.
“We had a barbecue one summer with some Korean clients who brought over their own food, which was basically just a great big roll of meat,” recalls Hale. “Everyone ate it, but last year they came again and wanted to bring their own food again. We convinced them not to.”
With his powers of persuasion apparently matching his cooking skills, it seems like the law firm atmosphere might have rubbed off on Hale over the years.