Gary McKechnie – My Life in Hospitality

30 September 2010 by
Gary McKechnie – My Life in Hospitality

Gary McKechnie got his first taste of working in a kitchen when he took a job as a pot-washer in the Brentwood Moat House hotel. The atmosphere in the kitchen inspired him to want to learn more and after he began helping out by peeling the vegetables he decided to pursue this career path further.

"When the sous chef left to become head chef at the Woodford Moat House, I went with him to be his apprentice," he explains. "By that point I'd really got the buzz."

Training complete, McKechnie joined the kitchens at London events venue the Whitbread Brewery as a commis chef where there was a significant change in scale. "I went from a small team of just five to a massive brigade of 20, which was a bit of a culture shock," he says.

A passion for skiing took McKechnie to the Alps where he started as a relief chef before working his way up to the role of head chef of a small hotel. In addition to developing his career, it gave him the chance to ski every day. "It was fantastic. I was only 21 so I really enjoyed myself," he recalls fondly.

When McKechnie returned to the UK at the end of the season he took his first step into the world of business and industry catering with an in-house senior chef role at Legal & General, which he describes as a pleasant relief from the intense nature of his last role. "It was Monday to Friday and I got my friends back."

When he joined Charters Catering, part of Compass Group, McKechnie worked at contracts such as the London Stock Exchange and ABN Amro Bank, where he ultimately became executive head chef - overseeing the catering for more than 3,000 people.

One of the benefits of working for a large organisation afforded to McKechnie was the opportunity to broaden his business horizons and develop man-management skills and knowledge of back-of-house systems.

McKechnie's latest role as director of food for boutique contract caterer Harbour & Jones began in January and followed a two-year period as the company's chef for hospitality.

"It's all happened rather quickly, to be honest. Over the period of a year I've gone from cooking every day to a totally different role," he says. "But I think that developing chefs is very rewarding."

Highs… cKechnie particularly enjoyed getting involved in competitive cooking at the likes of Hotelympia, with Charters. "It was good to work in a team. There were four chefs altogether, a couple of whom I'm still in contact with, and even though we only got silver it was worth it."

When he was running the catering and hospitality at ABN Amro Bank, McKechnie was tasked with cooking for 5,000 children over the period of a week for a Christmas party - a logistically massive challenge. "The kids of clients were invited to celebrate Christmas and it involved nearly four months of planning the event with themes like Peter Pan and Aladdin," he explains. "We had candyfloss, smoothie and burger stalls.

Lows… "We've been evacuated minutes before a function kicked off," says McKechnie. "And that's really hard." While working at ABN Amro the fire alarm sounded resulting in the whole building being evacuated.

"It's hard to recover, but you do what you've got to do. Pull everything out of the oven and put it back in 40 minutes later."

While McKechnie has fond memories of his first rungs on the hospitality career ladder, the low pay and long hours are not included.

"It was hard during my apprenticeship. Your friends are going out at the weekend and you're stuck doing all the worst jobs in the kitchen. I spent a lot of time in the potato peeling room.

"But it builds character and disciplines you. It means I don't ask anyone to do anything I wouldn't do myself."

Gary McKechnie

Age 44
Family Married with two girls, 15 and 13
Drives VW Passat
Favourite holiday Dorset
Motto Work hard and be honest

RECESSION-BUSTING TIPCut down your waste and cost everything down to the smallest detail.

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