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Thank you all.
Well. That was a nice surprise. I've just rolled passed 500 likes on Facebook. I will do my best to keep updating, but I am a very busy chap.
If you have not followed me yet, come and join the party.
Thank you all.
Update: There seems to be some mystery squiggles and characters in this post. You can read a clearer version on Medium (CLICK HERE) I really can't work out how to sort this.
What does it take for you to take a day off ill when you are a chef?
âIâll keep this one short and sweet because I feel like crap.
Have you seen that chef meme?
âChef, Iâm not well, I canât come inâ¦â
âOh no! Which Hospital are you in?â
âIâm not in Hospital chef!â
âOkâ¦See you at 4 pmâ
How ill do we have to be to be able to take time out? With the recent season of flu, colds and sniffles being upon us. Chefs around the world are trying to be heroes by turning up in kitchens to get their Mise en place done.
Meanwhile, those 9 to 5ers are wrapped up with a Lemsip, Netflix and a thick blanket. They have called in their âDuvet Dayâ (yes, thatâs a thing) With no drama from the Human resources department. They can take the deserved break to recover and feel better.
Jealous, moi? Totally! Too many occasions have I been in a kitchen when I should have been resting. Too afraid to say, âI need my bedâ. Dose up on pills and carry on. Itâs almost like a badge of honour to be working while being unwell. But who is the mug? We joke about the snowflake/millennial generation, but are they the ones whoâve got it right?
Why bust your ass at work for that Â£8 per hour, when a day off could be priceless? Living your best life should not involve trying not to sneeze into the Court Bouillon!
Now, obviously, when I talk about being ill, Iâm only really talking about mild colds and not full-on Influenza. Here, Iâm just really talking about the disparity between the hospitality industry and the office and retail sector. Chefs and service staff have to be sicker than the average to warrant time off. It is frustrating when a co-worker calls in sick, but letâs be honest, we moan about it, but life goes on. The job gets done. Also, when it's sincere, we would all prefer that the sick staff member kept their âdreaded lurgyâ to themselves.
And yes. We all know the Environmental Health view on sickness. But here, Iâm really just talking about the work/sickness culture. Do you work when you should be recovering? How easy is it for you or your employees to take time off? What can be done to make it easier?
With modern knowledge, we are very focused on the issues with mental health. We know people need to try and speak up when they have a problem and should not be stigmatised for it. But how can we expect this when people are still afraid to call in for the common cold?
I told you that I feel like crap. Iâm now heading back to bed. It is my day off anyway, so Iâll be back at work tomorrow. Iâd love to spend more time linking in stats and quantifiable research to this blog, but I really donât have the energy. My wife and kids are giving me zero sympathy. I just want my mummyâ¦..sniff!
For this month’s post, I thought I’d list 11 Comments and Questions chefs love to hate.
I know these grind on me. Feel free to add…
1. Can I get discount?
Chefs are always asked for discount. No matter which level they work at in the kitchen, it seems to be assumed that they have senior powers to slice a cool 20% off their friend’s bills. This is not the case. Most chefs don’t even get discounts themselves. If they do happen to own the restaurant, bar or hotel and this friend wants to visit, then the friendly thing to do would be to support them by expecting to pay full price. Anything else is a bonus.
2. Have you ever worked with….?
Mostly NO! There are millions of chefs in the world. We don’t all know each other and we have not all worked for that 0.01% who are fortunate enough to have their own TV show on the BBC.
3. What’s your signature dish?
I really hate this one. Back in the 1990s, every chef on TV seemed to have a signature dish. This then filtered down into the mainstream consciousness. Resulting in it being the follow up question, once meeting new people and they realise they are in the presence of a chef. A signature dish is a luxury reserved for those in the world of competitive cookery. Or those with a book deal. Brian from The Greyhound Pub has no signature dish. He’s too busy for that shit!
4. What’s in this? (insert random dish in random restaurant)
Like I said before. We chefs do not all know each other and we are not all connected via WiFi or Bluetooth. So if we are fortunate enough to be invited out for a meal with a group of friends or family. We do not automatically know what is in the random establishments fish pie or beef curry. We can only guess as much as the next person.
5. I bet your partner eats well?
Well, I guess she might. I’m never really home….. This question is based on the assumption that I am home cooking for my beloved every day. She feasts on nothing but restaurant grade meals cooked by me. Sous Vide venison fillet with confit shallots, garnished with edible flowers n shit! Nah bruv! She’s been to Morrisons and picked up a salad, some falafels and a bottle of Echo Falls Rose. She’s happy. After 18 years of marriage, she knows how to take care of herself in the kitchen. A chef’s spouse knows the score. Which leads me to number 6…..
6. What do you want to do on your day off babe?
Nothing. I want to do nothing. I want to sleep in until midday. I’ll eat those kit-kats, the crisps and the Muller Rice you were saving for the kids packed lunches. Then I’ll watch ALL the catch up TV which I’ve missed all week…plus I may lose myself in an episode of Jeremy Kyle. My brain needs to operate in power-save mode for a while. Like Windows 95, the shut down procedure takes a while…. “It is now safe to shut down your chef"
7. Are you one of those shouty/angry chefs?
No. He’s called Gordon Ramsay. He’s made millions from his persona (and talent) It works for him and may have worked for that generation of chef. But we are now in the 21st century where being a bell end is frowned upon and not accepted. I’d be out of a job and unemployable if I adopted the angry chef model of leadership. This question is usually asked by someone who doesn’t actually know me that well. Those who have worked with me will know that I am “Chill AF” No drama in my kitchens. Channel the adrenalin into the work. Move on.
8. Oh, you’d hate to cook for me, I’m a really fussy eater.
Nothing to add. You are correct. I will not be cooking for you…. Ok. Fussy eaters who come in to eat my food are welcome. I like to feel I am adaptable. But I will swear, mutter under my breath and talk trash behind your back. But you do pay my wages. But yes. I will hate it.
9. I bet you’re really fussy when you eat out?
Any chef worth their salt will have realistic expectations when they eat out. A chef will never criticise a plate of food set down in front of them. Come on! It’s very rare if we actually eat from a plate, let alone have someone prepare us a meal. Quite literally Don’t bite the hand which feeds you!
10. I’ll pop in for a chat when you’re at work.
Can I come and see you while you’re at work?! Just because I work in a public house does not mean I am not working. Just because I’m the head chef, do not assume I have a platoon on minions hanging onto my apron strings, waiting to do my bidding. I don’t swan into the kitchen with a tasting spoon like the Man From Del Monte. I’m busting my arse to keep the trip advisor brigade happy. I always appreciate a hello. I really love a beer being sent to the kitchen. But please understand, I have a job to do. And if we do chat and I seem distracted…. Something is probably burning.
11. What’s good on the menu chef?
I can’t believe I nearly missed this one. I really can’t tell you what you want to eat. All the food is good, in my opinion. Me and my team have done our best to deliver the best product we can. We have produced a menu for you to choose from. Make a decision and stop bothering me….. But actually… maybe try the Salt Cod, broad bean and prawn risotto. I think it’s bloody lush! 😊
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little list and taken it in the humour it’s meant. If you have any comments or questions you want to add, please drop me a line.
Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise to keep it to yourself?
Well….here it is…. I struggled and I still do. For the longest time I struggled to find the balance between the work and my personal life. How could I do my job, functioning at a level of intensity, which burns out many? How could I be the husband and father which I am required to be? How could I not let my friends and family down at social events? How would I find time to relax and be myself? How could I do ALL these things and remain my awesome self?
The truth is, trying to attack all of these issues in their entirety, was driving me a little nuts. When I think about it now, it still draws me in to a darkened place.
So what did I do? How did I find balance? Honestly. I don’t think I have. What I am trying to do is change my approach. By this, I mean shift the focus from my job defining who I am, to letting me, Brian, be the priority. It’s cliché, but looking after number one is how I am dealing with the struggle. I make sure that I do the things which I enjoy and help improve me as a person.
I’ll come back to the specifics in a bit. But before this can be done. One needs to realise that the significance of what they do in the office/kitchen/restaurant, is minimal. Busting your arse for a job which would replace you within days, should you drop down dead. They would. But your family can’t replace you. Your loved ones can’t replace you. My wife may say different! But, I hope you get my point. Being run down to the point of exhaustion, so that you can’t enjoy those moments with your own family and friends is not how it should be. At the end of the day, it’s just someone’s dinner. Unless you’re a chef on the front line, in a war zone (#Respect) or dropping of aid to famine ravaged villages for the United Nations, little Veronica and Tarquin will have to wait that little bit longer for their egg and cress sandwiches. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel by taking your foot of the gas by 5%. To carry on the driving metaphor, revving your engine in the red all the time will kill your motor eventually. Who does that benefit?
Too many websites, feeds and forums are still glorifying the aggressive, work hard/play hard lifestyle. Glamorising the burned out chef. Hollywood even cashed in on chefs on the edge. Two of the biggest films about our industry of recent years, both featured chefs “losing their shit!” Having psychotic episodes. But it all worked out in the end. That’s the Bradley Cooper effect. In reality. We all know how that would have ended. Most of us know the chefs who fell of the edge and didn’t come back.
Being a chef is sexy. It’s rock and roll. But only a few, less that 0.01% of us are in the limelight, making waves. We are mostly soaping down oven doors, trying to get home. Clock watching and hovering around the clingfilm at the end of a shift.
So, back to the specifics. What do I do? Like I mentioned. I shifted the focus from me being 80% chef and slotting the rest of my life into the gaps. Now I am only a chef while I am in the kitchen. I stopped letting the job define me as a person. I stopped trying to balance being a chef with the rest of my life because I realised that that is an unfair battle. Chef vs Life is ridiculous. A life has so many elements, all of which outweigh your job! Chef vs Family/Friends/Self/Physical Health/Mental Health/Diet/Love. Turning the volume down on the chef part of my life is where I’m at. It’s not a perfect system. In a recent chat with “Love Letters To Chefs” I identified that this holistic approach can only really work if it is explained to your piers and employer. If they respect you, it should make sense. But every case is different. You need to be honest with yourself. It took me a long time to realise what I needed. Which aspects of my life were toxic and which were worth changing for. What I also try and do, as a senior chef, is to be more proactive and less reactive to the needs of the chefs around me. I do my best to ensure they get the days off they require. Paying as much attention to the mental health and welfare of those around you as you would to your SFBB diary and allergy checklists. I am certain that more people are effected by overwork, fatigue and stress, than are having an allergic reaction to Lupin.
Get rest, get away from the noise. Spending 12 hours under the billion Watt extraction unit, listening to that constant drone, in itself can be tiring. I sometimes take the longer walk home, just for the peace. Being in an environment which is unrelated to work or home helps me bridge the two worlds.
I am by no means a saint. Only recently being told that I can occasionally be very difficult to work with due to my moods. I know that I have been very tetchy in the recent heatwave here in the UK. This is the closest I’ve come to considering a career change. Fuelled even more by the 70 hour week which I found myself doing to cover a chef’s holiday. It’s been a while since I put in those sort of hours in the kitchen and I’m still recovering now. Only sweet baby Jesus knows how I used to do that on a weekly basis. Those who know me well will tell you that I am mostly a calm, chilled out chap. But I know I am guilty of suppressing anger and negative emotions. I would then vent this pent up rage in a torrent of passive aggressive sarcasm, bitchiness and nastiness. I’m working on this aspect of my personality. But I can only afford so much therapy! My personal belief is that life is about trying to be the best you. Some say, the best version of yourself. The emphasis should be on the try. No matter what your religious belief is, if any. When it comes to reflecting on your life. You want to able to tell the world that you gave it a go.
So to summarise. Chill out. Love. Learn to switch off. Learn to switch on. Talk.
If you haven’t checked out Love Letters to Chefs, please go see the work which this site is trying to promote. The hashtag #BetterChefLife is being pushed to help improve the lifestyle, welfare, expectation and perception of chefs.
I am very aware that my last few blogs have come from a negative viewpoint of this chef life. So, this time I am bringing a bit more positivity. I have previously written a post “Reasons why being a chef is awesome” Feel free to check that out if you are after that “All is good” feeling. In that post I list 25 reasons and I could have written more. In this post, I’m not going to breakdown all 25 points because I am not that thorough and I don’t have the time or inclination to do that. Instead I want to share with you a semi-autobiographical piece, which I hope conveys what this career has given me.
I recently heard an interview with Tom Kerridge and he was speaking about the kitchen lifestyle and brigade mentality. He described it as “a bit like a pirate ship!” This is not the first time we’ve heard this comparison. The late, great Anthony Bourdain made reference to this all too often. This got me thinking about why do I like being a chef? What’s the appeal? It certainly isn’t the money or the hours. The Pirate ship term gives an air of “we’re all in this together”, “We stand shoulder to shoulder, brothers and sisters, no soldier left behind.” We present an image of strength and unity, when in reality the opposite can sometimes be true. Most chefs rarely show their true selves to their colleagues. We can present a façade of calm and knowing. We talk the talk. We hope that they don’t spot our weakness or our fears. Most of us are more like the children on the Willy Wonka boat as it hares through that psychedelic, kaleidoscope scene (The original movie of course). We are on a journey, but are not sure where it’s going, or whether we will have our sanity at the end. It took me many years to realise that opening up and being honest to myself was the way forward.
Back in 1991 (Fade to flashback of young Brian, rocking an impeccable flat-top haircut and bum-fluff moustache) I spent my first summer off school working in a local library. Yes, a library. I was the guy typing up the labels for the spines of the books and putting the security stickers in the CDs and high value books. Some may call this the ultimate in rock and roll life. Life was good. I was earning relatively good money for a 16 year old. Enough to buy a few good shirts from Top Man and sweets whenever I wanted. As the summer break was coming to an end and my former school friends were heading to sixth from and college, my parents turned to me and in their best passive aggressive tone asked what my plan was? Easily translated as “Are you planning on being sticker-boy for the rest of your life?”
At this point I started to panic. What could I do? My GCSE grades were mediocre at best and I was starting to realise that being an international footballer/model/actor was not on the cards either. I liked food. I was a teenager, I was always hungry. If only there was some sort of career which involved food? Then, right on cue, my uncle Michael turned up at our house in a white lotus. Like a big black fairy godmother******! That’s how I remember it anyway. He was a chef. He was travelling the world and always having adventures…..SOLD!
Within days I had enrolled on the local college course. City & Guilds 706.1 +2. I had no real Idea of what being a chef was. As a family we had never really eaten at restaurants. My only reference point was my Uncle. At this time he was a Sous Chef at the Dorchester in London. He had given me a little advice and pointers, but I was in. Over the next few weeks my glistening new, heavy cotton chef uniform arrived. My starter knife kit and the copies of Practical Cookery, Theory of catering and of course, The La Repertoire de Cuisine. In the run up to the start of college I was watching everything on TV to do with food. Gary Rhodes was all over the telly. Marco Pierre White was always in the newspapers. These were chefs! I wanted to be like them. I wanted to make food like them. I wanted to live their lives.
Day one at college was when I was to meet my first band of pirates. A mix of likeminded individuals who shared a similar passion. We did not have direction yet, but we had a poetic purpose. We wanted to be chefs. We wanted to be good chefs. We were also hormonal teenagers.
The college years were intertwined with overindulgence, excess and cooking. This was the first taste of the work hard, play hard mentality which would glaze our industry years. After college, came the full time working years and working with the real dogs. Men and women who had sailed the metaphorical Seas. The hardcore chefs who have not been to bed yet. The chefs who never call in sick. The caffeine addicted, camel smoking cliché. These people worked harder and played harder. I was in for the ride. Some old school friends would pop up during my life timeline, but they would not be able to keep up. Their 9 to 5 week would only raise a sneer from this chef. “You work 36 hours a week?!.... that’s what I do in a weekend!” This person was not worthy. Where are my chef pals? I was putting in 60 to 70 hour weeks and not batting an eyelid. I wasn’t burning the candle at both ends, I was setting fire to the box of candles and dripping the wax on my bare naked chest.
This lifestyle turned me into a demon. Alcohol and girls were my vice. In the kitchen I could be an angry, sarcastic bastard. Trying to impress the new girl on the bar. My charm and wit were no way near the size of my ego.
Here’s where it get’s soppy. I met a girl. She was the one who was not impressed by my cooking, my attitude or my crap jokes. She just chatted with me every now and then. She saw me in those moments when my dickhead ego is still asleep and she saw the real me. No show-boat. No ulterior motive. The real me. And I let her see it. That’s where I was. That’s when I met my wife…..And that’s when I was reminded of who I was (Deep eh?). Those early years together were by no means perfect. I wrestled with my inner dickhead, but I knew she was the person I needed in my life. So I had to make it work.
Don’t worry that’s the romance part done. Look, what I guess I’m saying is that I was far from a saint. But that is truly the innocence of youth. We think we are indestructible, untouchable and invulnerable to the world. As chefs we can get caught up in our own majesty and believe our own bullshit. Here I am, twentysomething years later, looking back on a career which has been good. I never won rosettes or Michelin stars, but I have fed a million stomachs for sure. I feel I have been through the industry and I have seen the light and the dark side. They are both equally beautiful. They have made me the man I am today. In the same way that Gareth Southgate missed that penalty in 1996 has made him the inspirational manager of the England football team today. His previous fall has made him stronger. I have seen what this industry can do to people. The negative and the positive. The friendships I made which are still strong today. Chefs tend to have a good understanding of who their real friends are. The friends who try to arrange meet ups for a Monday or Tuesday evening, not a Friday night. The friends who stick their heads in the kitchen to yell “Hi!” but leave, not wanting conversation, just wanted you to know they were there.
The darkest part of the industry is the saying goodbye. Too many fallen soldiers. Men and women who have been violated to the edge of existence. Mentally and physically abused into submission. Some are never seen again. Some reappear with a new facia. New armour to protect them from poisonous arrows of bureaucracy. They are the lucky ones. Many chefs are battling with mental health issues. Maybe that chef you spoke with today has issues which you cannot see. If there is one thing a chef is good at, it’s making something crappy, look good. Food and life. Add garnish, send it!
This career has given me so much. I love being a chef and I love how it’s made me the person I am today. I am far from perfect and my shit is definitely not together. I still drink too much and my demons are always just sitting in the corner of the room, waiting for the moment to strike. I use my blogs as therapy. I know I sometimes overshare, but I can only write what I know. So you get this drivel.
I really cant remember what my original point was? Did I cover it? I was trying to be positive and I didn’t really want to go down the Mental Health route. So many blogs out there who can offer better advice than I. My point is that This life as a chef has given me lots of opportunity to improve as a person. I am not defined by the kitchen I stand in. I am a dad and a husband. I am a son and a brother. I am family and your mate. I am all those things before I am a chef. I am still a chef but I refuse to be a cliché or a stereotype. I am Brian. That chef bloke who writes blogs no one reads. Seems legit.
“Chef?!.... A customer wants to know what’s vegan on the menu tonight?” comes the cry from the front of house team member, yelling over the drone of the full power extraction system. A shudder courses over the chef’s body as they wrack their brain to try and come up with a sensible response. Supressing the urge to holler back something abusive, sarcastic and really unhelpful. It’s 6.15pm and it’s already busy, one chef has not turned up and the kitchen has been playing catch up all day. This could be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. Now is not the time to respond with “my arse is vegan!”
As chefs, most of us have been there. As Front-Of-House staff, we’ve been on the receiving end of uncooperative chefs. NEWS FLASH!! It’s 2018 and the days of serving up that mushroom risotto as your standard vegetarian option have gone. Coupled with the “I guess I can make that vegan if you want?” this has to end.
I’m not vegan, I don’t think I could ever be vegan. My will power is terrible and I feel my relationship with meat is deep rooted in my DNA. So many good memories with feasting of roast rib on beef, shoulders of pork, even dipping into a bargain bucket of fried chicken. It’s not necessarily the food, just the associated memories. I can’t recall any nostalgia connected with eating broccoli. This is just me. I have total respect for the reasons behind veganism. I get it.
I sometimes imagine the scenario of Aliens landing on earth, on their intergalactic quest for knowledge. They would turn to us humans and ask “What do you eat?”… obviously they’d speak English! We’d then turn and point out to them that we eat pretty much everything. “Yes the animals too!” At this point they run for the hills or beam up to their mothership.
We eat the animals. This sounds a little weird when said out loud right? In its first few years, my own event catering business “Knife Of Brian Cookery” had offered a Hog Roast as one of the services. I have sold my roaster recently…. I had to. Making eye contact with a 70lb Pig as I loaded it into my Hog Master Oven left me racked with guilt. It’s unbelievably human-looking eyes felt as if they were looking in to my own soul and this chilled me to my core. That was the point I decided that I didn’t want to do Hog Roasts any more. It didn’t have an effect on my diet. In the words of comedy legend Chris Rock “I’d eat a pigs ass if you cooked it right!!” But the events of last summer had started to sew the seeds in my own mind that I should try to make some changes. I know Ethically it makes sense. You don’t have to search too hard on Netflix or YouTube to find a documentary highlighting the malpractices of the meat and dairy industry. Not to forget the shocking statistics raised by cattle farming.
My eldest son, who, now in his twenties, has dived in to veganism. This happened a few years ago and my wife and I joked that it would never last. He’s still vegan and loves it. He lives in London now and although more expensive, the food choices are always vast. Especially when it comes to street food, pop-ups and events. I recently visited Brighton. I was there to support friends during the marathon and I took the opportunity to see if I could “go vegan” for the weekend. It was ridiculously simple. I wasn’t checking for isinglass in the beers or wearing Pleather shoes, but I was doing my best to make vegan choices. In a town like Brighton, it was so easy. Every other café, pub or restaurant was totally vegan friendly. A glimpse of the future maybe?
So, what next? As chefs and food industry professionals we are on the front line of seeing the food trends and how half arsed the governments and legislators tackle issues with Sugar, fast food and food labelling. We see the Gluten free tourists who request a specially designed menu, then proceed to gorge on bread rolls anyway because they looked nice. The vegan who eats dairy, milk and fish….and some chicken! We see the food trends first hand and this time, I think it’s here to stay. It’s not a trend. This is an awakening. A movement. A revolution. I’m not on board yet, but I’m walking the platform. The recent cookbooks which landed on my doorstep recently have been vegan or plant based. Like I’ve said, I don’t know if I could ever go vegan. I love cheese. I love bacon. I am currently addicted to Nduja salami. But my overall meat consumption has fallen by 80%. I try to make those meat free choices when cooking at home or eating out.
There are those chefs who’ll stand their ground. With their never say die attitude. Tearing the flesh of a turkey leg like some old-school cartoon character. They sneer and snarl at the mention of a vegan in their restaurant. I was one of those chefs. I’ve even seen the famous anti-vegan Gordon Ramsay tweet about “Giving this vegan thing a try…” It is time for us to move with the times. Jump on, or be left behind.
Take a look on social media. Scroll through the images on Instagram or Chef+ and you’ll see that it’s not all avocado toast and sourdough. A quality chef can filter through the bullshit and discover some new flavour combinations. A new challenge to keep the daily graft more interesting.
I’d love to hear if you have made similar changes. Would you consider becoming vegan? Are you vegan? How are you finding it in a non-vegan kitchen? I’d really love to know. Thanks for reading.
Should I no longer talk to young people about being chefs?
It’s getting difficult now. I try to stay positive about this industry. I do my absolute best to encourage, persuade and nurture young people into choosing a life in the hospitality sector. I would invite them to come and do their Work Experience Placement with me and get a real fast track and immersive experience of what it is like to be a chef. I would tell them that a good chef will always have work. No robot or machine will ever be able to do our job in the kitchen. This could be a job for life!
But now, as I approach my mid forties and see more and more of my chef friends drop out of the kitchen in favour of better pay and better hours outside of the Chef-life hashtag. Delivery drivers, mechanics, Supermarket management and even bus drivers. There are a few chefs locally, who have migrated towards the fruit and vegetable suppliers. It’s not rare here to see an ex 2 rosette chef turning up to deliver my trays of salad and potatoes.
Am I the mug? Punching in 55 plus hour weeks. Long weekends trapped in the kitchen, feeding the aforementioned ex chefs, who are now enjoying their Friday afternoon to Sunday night with their own family and friends. Am I the crazy one? Don’t answer that.
I know there will be those hardcore chefs who’ll be saying “If you cant take the heat, get out of the kitchen!” And yes. They have a point. But I do like it. I love being a chef. I don’t want to leave. My problem is, I am finding it more difficult to encourage people to enter it as a career choice. The stress, the hours and the isolation from love ones. My teenage daughter has a real passion and talent for cooking, but it would break my heart if she ended up work in a sweaty bistro kitchen, surrounded by grumpy old chef bloggers and sociopaths. Having to miss out on so much, like me.
The strain on relationships is always difficult for a chef. If they are lucky enough to find someone who will be happy with broken weeks, split shifts and Christmas dinners alone. Then I salute them. But will that situation survive the trying to raise a family? How many family events will you miss before they are fed up with it. Fed up with you being permentantly tired, on your day off. I have been with my wife for all of my career. I recently asked her how she would feel if I suddenly got a nine to five job and was home evenings and weekends. Her response… “What? Even Fridays?…Cos that’s when Greys Anatomy is on and you’ll just annoy me!” We can draw from that, that she does not want me hanging around the house. She has fully converted to #ChefWife. Total independent parenting and a single entity. To have me hanging around would completely upset the dynamic of our relationship. She’s got so used to me not being there, she rarely considers me when accepting invites out. I’m still referred to as “+1” or her invitations. Even though we have been together for 24 years, if you collate the total time spent together, we’ve barely had 5 years in each other’s company. I’ve got 10 more years before we get to the seven year itch (quick maths)
For all the positives that these jobs can offer by way of career longevity. The mental strain it puts on chefs, young and old is real. For young people coming in to this game, the reality of missing out on social engagements and general “hanging out” will test their own relationships with friends and family. Employers need to do their best to accommodate days off. They can’t act all surprised when the commis chef hands in their notice, to go and work in Morrisons Supermarket. Because they are fed up of missing their friends’ parties. The older chef equally should be respected. Sometimes they are treated as expendable commodities, they should be encouraged to take the occasional Friday or Saturday off. It’s not uncommon for senior chefs to work 48 weekends of the year. Employers should be accountable to a duty of care to the welfare of all their staff. Not just in the work place, but outside of the kitchen or restaurant too. They’d be the first to call out an employee if their behaviour reflected on the business in any way. So would it be unfair for an employee to blame their working conditions on the breakdown of their own relationships or behaviour. With mental health featuring regularly in the media, hospitality is pretty high up on the contributors list.
So, back to my initial point. Is it right or fair for me to encourage people in to this life? Personally. Yes I will. But I will always be honest. Let them know that this job can give you everything, but it can also take a lot away. Work hard, but know when to take a break. Find the job that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for that time off.
This generation gets a lot of bad press. Being called snowflakes and a generation of young people expecting instant gratification. I’m very much against this ideology. There is nothing wrong with people expecting to be treated fairly. This generation has seen the effect excessive working hours has had on us. Why would they not want to say “**** that!” Friends and family are important. When all is said and done, they’re the people we’ll need in our lives. Maybe the boss will have to get his hands dirty this weekend.
So, here’s the thing. A few weeks ago, I sent off a menu to the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards for the Suffolk chef of the Year Category. Fuelled by a few Gin & Tonics, I constructed a menu inspired by dishes from my years as a chef. The initial entry round involved submitting this menu for a three course meal for two using local produce where possible.
I filled in the forms, a brief curriculum vitae and submitted my menu. The competition has a history of winners coming from The Angel Hotel in Bury. Four out of the past 5 years in fact. This doesn’t bother me. I am fully aware that the competition hosts lean on the side of rural Suffolk life over town living. I just want an opportunity to show what I can do. Hopefully gaining a platform to stand up on and inspire young people to enter this industry which has given me so much.
I used to enter competitive cookery competitions as a student. Winning a Silver medal at Salon Culinaire in 1993 which I take great pleasure in telling my kids about (and anyone who’ll listen). This gave my the confidence to go on and be a chef. It secured the desire for me. “Next year I’d do better” The competition never returned.
Once I knew about this competition, I made sure that I entered a category. This is my third attempt. Although I did help my junior chef Georgina Blake get through to the cook off final of the Junior Chef of the year competition last year (2017).
Anyway. To my surprise, I got through! Next week (5th April) I have to head off to West Suffolk College for a cook off against lord knows who! I’ll be totally out of my comfort zone, but after making Georgina go through this last year, I could not back down.
My plans to launch my cookery classes have had to take the back seat for the moment too understandably. So my apologies to those who have been waiting for details.
My menu for the event? You’ll have to head over to www.instagram.com/knifeofbrian to see my dishes.
It would be nice to win. My plan would be, like I said, to use it as a platform. Maybe I can promote the junior competition for 2019 (No junior competition this year) The industry is crying out for new talent. But this challenging career is not for everyone. At 43 years old, I already struggle with the busy day and long night. A few more years and I’ll be off to cook in retirement homes or school canteens…maybe?
If you want to see how I get on, check back on my website and follow me on www.twitter.com/knifeofbrian
Where do the Food Stylists fit in? Are they Friends or foe to the chef? For a long while, I would get a little annoyed when swiping through my Instagram feed and seeing beautiful dishes. Dishes, which at first glance look like something you’d eat at a Michelin Star manor! Then as I click on the profile, I’d realise that the creator of the dish is not a kitchen veteran, but a food stylist. A blogger. Someone who I would assume had too much time on their hands.
I would be angry and felt cheated. Who were these people to be tweezering false hope on the Grand Assiette of my aspirations? Their plates looked stunning and flawless. Do they not own a restaurant? Surely, they must be worthy of Stars or Rosettes? I carry on reading through the dish info and eventually get to the food stylist or food photography hashtags.
There are plenty of these pages and feeds out there. Some of them are chefs. Some are not. Some are chefs, reproducing their images for a professional photographer to snap on their £10k camera. Putting my greasy Samsung S7 to shame in a single click of their billion mega pixel camera. Then sending an image to their web development team, then launch the image to an avalanche of Likes and Hearts… meanwhile in Ipswich, my wild boar linguine tip toes up to 40 thumbs ups! Woo hoo, yay me! There are a fair amount of chefs who snap some amazing shots on their smartphones too. They ones whose filter game is way strong.
Jealous, Moi? No…well maybe a little. But who am I? I’m just a chef. A 50 hour a week pub chef. Grafting and trying to make those coins, to put my kids through university and keep my wife (and the bank) off my back. Can I compete with the big boys and girls on the social media playground, without buying virtual followers?
That’s where those pesky stylists come in. In my opinion, these people are helping chefs like me raise my game. So where I was angry, I am now inspired. Where I was feeling cheated, I was now motivated. These people are producing beautiful dishes which I may not always be able to be reproduce in my kitchen. But, if I can add a single aspect or element to one of my dishes on the menu, then surely, this is progress. The stylists are here to be the chef’s muse, whispering their Siren song over the drone of the extraction unit. Can I emulate? There was a time I had draw the line at adding nasturtiums to my rib eye steaks salads. The chef flower-power movement went to my head for a while, but I’m over that. But wow, what’s next? Ooooh! That combination of Shellfish and Game looks interesting no?
There is definitely a place for the food stylist. As chefs, we need these people to flood social media with inspiration and imagery which can inspire and motivate us mere mortals. I may not be the most technically gifted chef, but I make nice food. I don’t do foams, gels or the trendy tuiles. But I love to combine flavours. I love to see new colours in dishes and I really appreciate the artistry of food presentation. I love it when convention is challenged. As chefs, we should not fear the blogger, the stylist or the food photographer. Embrace the filter. Challenge our own beliefs and evolve this profession.
…but I do hate wellness bloggers, they can shove their avocado toast up their……
Are we future-proof? That’s the question I was asked in a recent conversation, regarding news and features, which had been reporting on how staff from supermarkets were being made redundant. Staff in high street banks were being laid off. And in both incidences, being replaced by automated, self-service counters.
I initially felt sorry for these sectors. Then, on reflection, I thought about how these employees have been pushing me towards these self service points every time I visited their place of employment. And here we are now. Expecting to dish out sympathy, because they have be replaced by artificial intelligence.
Okay, I’m not that heartless. I do care. As a father of three teenagers, all at various points of secondary and further education. They are trying to work out where they will fit in to the employment world. Which profession should they choose? There was a time when manufacturing was a safe “Job for life”. Not anymore. How secure is any industry now? Retail? It’s only a matter of time before sales assistants are a thing of the past. I see that Amazon have opened an unstaffed grocery store in the USA. With cameras on the ceiling, reading bar-codes as you put your groceries into your bag, scanned on your way out. Payment sent digitally. I’m sure we’re only years away from a staff-less Department store experience. Jeans, perfume and fancy underwear, all straight into your bag. No need to queue in Debenhams or John Lewis behind someone who is returning all their Christmas gifts.
So, as hospitality employees, are we safe? I recently stayed at a Premier Inn at Stratford, London. My wife had booked our room online. There was no hotel reception so-to-speak. But there was a touchscreen monitor, which after a brief tap, tap, tap, it dispensed our room key cards. You getting my point? So far, zero human interaction. In actual fact, the first hotel employee we met was the barman, that evening. How long will it be until hotels like this will do away with bar staff to bring the costs down even more? I have seen that there are some self-servicepubs and bars already appearing in cities around the world. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes the norm. Contactless payment on the beer pump. Wine dispensers mounted on the pub walls. I’m not sure if the cocktail maker Jukebox is a thing yet, but I’m in!
As for chef and waiters. Who knows? Service staff can be replaced up to a certain point. Many fast food restaurants are opting for ipad/tablet ordering, whereby, the customer is responsible for their own order. Are there any Michelin rated restaurants who have adopted this? In the kitchen. I will stand here now, in 2018, and say that no robot can do what we do! Being a chef is an art. Yes, I know that there are factories pumping out batches of lasagnes and turkey burgers, but I’m talking about being a chef in it’s traditional meaning.
There are issues with the lack of school leavers coming in to this industry. Catering colleges are seeing numbers decline. And although people are enjoying cooking more as a hobby, their interest in turning this into an actual job or career seems to fade. Why should they chose a career catering & hospitality? The pay isn’t great, the hours are mostly terrible and it’s not got the best reputation in the media, with cliché angry chefs dominating the TV shows. We, as chefs need to encourage and promote our trade. Highlight the positive aspects. I’ve said before that a good chef will always have a job. It’s a skill which travels globally and you can have a career as thrilling and as diverse as you want it to be. “People will always need food!” That’s what my mother told me. So whether they want to be a city centre pizza chef, an award winning mega chef, a school canteen cook or a travelling chef with a pro cycling team (That’s my dream job). The world is their oyster.
So until we get to the stage where everyone is popping meal replacement pills, I do believe chefs are safe….But I am looking over my shoulder every week. The robots are coming.
Hi, Welcome to my blog. I have been writing for a few years now. I like to think that I have improved slightly over that time.