Chapter 9 – A kitchen nightmare
Whichever hotel I worked in there was a common theme… Late afternoon was always the time I would have a visit from the executive chef if there were any problems in the kitchen or with their brigade. That occasional quiet time between the chaos of lunch and dinner shifts whilst the kitchen was in the calm throws of afternoon tea service and the kitchen felt almost eerie due to its unusual stillness with just the pastry chef running the show and all the others on a break!
Whether it’s the likes of Gordon Ramsey and his kitchen nightmare antics or maybe just real life stories that have got into the public domain, chefs are renowned for being hot headed and difficult to work with. Throughout my career when I’ve heard people dissing chefs I’ve also spoken out in their defence. Now it’s not a role I could ever have done (aside from not being able to cook!) I have loved working with chefs. I love their passion, dedication, commitment and the general no nonsense way of working. That said, I have supported many a senior chef with people issues, often caused by a lack of leadership skills. Likewise, I have watched in wonder as many others have truly inspired scores of young chefs with their creativity, talent and determination.
A chef in a hotel or restaurant works in tough conditions. Kitchens are hot places, usually small spaces with a lot of equipment in, the work is very fast paced, physically tiring, stressful and demanding. Prep time before service requires quick work and a lot of discipline and service time requires concentration and precision. I consider myself very lucky to have worked closely with a lot of extremely talented, passionate and well respected chefs. Naturally there have been some that were “shouty” but that was just a different challenge, and I relished working with them to hone their leadership skills!
So, its 3.30pm and a tired and deflated Marc comes to see me. He has been the executive chef at the hotel for 4 years and has a great team behind him. He has extensive experience and loves to develop his team. However he has just received a resignation from one of his chef de parties who has been offered a sous chef role at another hotel. “I can’t believe we have to recruit again” exclaims Marc. Chef recruitment was always the bane of my life in hotel HR. Decent chefs are as rare as hen’s teeth and they are not known for staying in a job for long. If a chef doesn’t enjoy his job, he can leave and pick up well paid, full time agency work the next day, so they tend to be quite transient and more inclined to just up sticks and leave if they aren’t happy with something.
So, it’s a challenge to constantly find new and innovative ways to find and attract great chefs. I always worked in partnership with Marc, two heads are always better than one. We always advertised the roles in the normal channels, the Caterer website, Indeed, job centre, the hotel website, social media and we both networked and kept in touch with former Exec Chefs so we could reach out to them.
I ask Marc if any of his team are ready for promotion, so that we can fill the chef de partie role internally and recruit a commis chef instead. Most of the commis chefs are new to the role and still in training, but the time is right to step Tom up, he’s been with us a while and is ready for the progression. It’s often easier to recruit commis chefs and good chefs like Marc enjoy moulding their own talent to their ways of working. We both enjoy giving youngsters a great opportunity to learn and get a great grounding in their careers.
I suggest as it’s approaching the end of the college year, we approach the local college with whom we’ve forged great links and see if we can pick up one of the students about to complete their chef training. Just talking everything through with Marc I can see the pressure dissipate.
I’m always pretty sure I know exactly what skills and experience we are looking for with most roles in the hotel, but always check with the HOD’s (Heads of Department) just in case their requirements change. As always, Marc is looking for someone with passion, a desire to learn and progress. As it’s an entry level role, fitting in with the current team is more important than experience. They will obtain that with us in spades.
Armed with all the information I need, Marc leaves and I pick up the phone to the local college to speak to the chef lecturer about his students.
Finding good people in any role in a hotel is crucial. There are so many challenges involved in terms of unsociable hours, often minimum wage roles and hard physical work. The beauty of it is that so much of the work can be learned on the job if you have a team of dedicated, strong leaders, committed to training and developing their people and employees with the right mind-set and personality.
Next time: Back to basics – a new role
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