We may still be in a recession, but there are always opportunities in the kitchen for people who are prepared to work hard and learn their trade. Rosalind Mullen reports.
THE MICHELIN-STARRED CHEF
Who? Andre Garrett, 37
What? Head chef
Where?Galvin at Windows, Hilton on Park Lane, London
Congratulations on winning Galvin at Windows' first Michelin star - but where did your love affair with cooking begin?
Thanks. Well, I decided to be a chef when I was 15. My grandmother worked at the Pump Rooms in Bath and I used to go in the back door and see the chefs working - something just clicked.
So how did you kick-start your career?
I got a foothold in hospitality by doing casual waiting and washing up work in a hotel. Like many chefs, I left school without qualifications. I remember the school was negative about my career choice but I enrolled at the local catering college and got my City & Guilds 7061/2 and 3. They have since been replaced by NVQs and VRQs but their apprentice-style worked well for me.
Where have you worked?
My first big job came when I was 19. I moved to London and worked under Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico as a commis chef. I went on to work at other restaurants in the capital, such as Bistrot Bruno, Nico Central, the Landmark hotel, Orrery and a stint in Paris with Guy Savoy.
So, tell us about Galvin at Windows
Chef-patron Chris Galvin launched the restaurant in 2006. I work with him to create seasonally inspired menus based around modern French haute cuisine. I've got a brigade of 24 and we serve an average of 120 guests for dinner every night. I guess I do about 60-65 hours a week, but although the hours are long I am doing what I have always loved - I enjoy working with ingredients and every day is different.
You must feel great having won a Michelin star
Well, some people achieve more in different ways, but it is good to benchmark yourself. It does get harder when you move up the ladder because the job becomes more disjointed. You do need to keep your hand in, though, because it's important that you show the brigade how you want them to cook.
Did you get where you are today through luck or career management?
I was lucky. I didn't start planning my career until I was about 35. My mentors have include Bruno Loubet, Andrew McLeish and Chris Galvin.
What does the future hold for you?
I'd love to see my name on the door of a restaurant.
So what advice would you give young chefs with ambition?
When you start off it will be hard work - the nice things come later. You need to work with a chef who will nurture your talent so when you take a job it's important to make sure it's right for you. I think it is better to do a week's trial rather than the half-day that most people do. It's good to talk to people and take advice. Also, you need consistency on a CV, so it doesn't look good to jump ship after six months. Choosing the right job and spending at least two years in it gives your career more strength.
GALVINS AT WINDOWS IN A NUTSHELL
Michelin-starred restaurant on the 28th floor of Hilton on Park Lane, London
Chef-patron is Chris Galvin, who with his brother, Jeff, also runs Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Galvin Café de Luxe and Galvin La Chapelle restaurants
For careers information, log on to www.galvinrestaurants.com
THE GASTROPUB CHEF
Who? Daniel Doherty, 25
What? Head chef
Where?Old Brewery, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
We hear that you started young
Yes, you get the bug and that's it. I was about 14 or 15 and I wanted to make money so I worked in kitchens as a washer-up. When I was 16 I won an Academy of Culinary Arts scholarship and worked at 1 Lombard Street restaurant in London.
Talk us through your early career
The apprenticeship was three years and I graduated with a distinction. I worked my way up from commis chef at Soren Jessen's Noble Rot in Mayfair to demi-chef de partie. I also helped to relaunch his Graze in Mayfair, then worked at Roux Fine Dining as senior sous chef working in private banks. Basically, I took logical steps up the career ladder.
So you are proof that a talented chef can make it big when still young
Yes. My first head chef position came when I was 23 and I worked at the Ambassador in Exmouth Market, London, which won two rosettes. I spent two months in Switzerland as a private chef and then before my current job I worked at the Empress of India gastropub in London, cooking modern British food.
So tell us about the Old Brewery
Well, it's a new venture from the Meantime Brewing Company [due to open on 23 March] and we are based in the Old Royal Naval College - the main hall is a café during the day and a restaurant at night, and there is also a bar and a microbrewery.
What about the food?
The menu has been created by me. Reflecting the fact we have our own microbrewery, we have used beer in recipes in a quirky way. Dishes include beer-cured salmon, shucked oysters marinated in Hospital Porter and chocolate beer sorbet. There are eight chefs in the brigade, although that may rise to 12 by the summer.
How do you feel about opening the business?
I feel confident, but cautious. We'll probably get 700 people through the doors - there will be a churn of people - and the restaurant will see about 90 diners.
What's the best bit about your job?
I love being creative. There is discipline in the kitchen, but chefs are funny characters. They don't conform. In the kitchen people are more accepting of different types of people. It's also great seeing people develop in small spaces.
What would you say to a commis chef who thinks they'll never move on from peeling carrots?
You should stick with it. You may be getting miserable pay and working hard, but it's only by sticking in the job that you'll get noticed. You have to be committed so don't move jobs too much. People pick it up as a weakness.
What about your own ambitions?
I have always been ambitious until now, but I have a brand-new team, kitchen and equipment and for the moment I am where I want to be.
THE OLD BREWERY IN A NUTSHELL
- Opening this month [March]
- Owned by the Meantime Brewing Company, which brews both traditional and new bottled beers
- Comprising a microbrewery, café, restaurant and bar
- Company also owns local pub the Greenwich Union
- For career information, log on to www.meantimebrewing.com
THE CONTRACT CATERING CHEF
Who? Robin Turner, 44
What? Executive development chef
Tell us about your job
I'm part of the central craft team at Sodexo. I am responsible for training and development, working with craft food development director David Mulcahy.
So when and where did your career begin?
I have been a chef for about 20 years. I really started when I was about 13 because I was doing some work for a party caterer. Then after school I enrolled with the technical college in Harlow where I took a series of City & Guilds diplomas such as 705/1, 2, 3 and 706/1, 2, 3.
But you didn't go straight into contract catering?
No, I spent 18 months as a commis chef at the Royal Garden, then moved on to the London Marriott for 18 months before landing a chef de partie job at the renowned Inigo Jones restaurant under Paul Gayler where I stayed for a year.
I joined Sodexo (then Gardner Merchant) as a sous chef and worked my way up in the B&I sector (now called corporate services) to head chef and eventually took on an executive group role looking after nine contracts at Barclays Bank.
Your career didn't really take off until you moved to Sodexo, then?
Well, apart from a brief break when I worked for the Eaton Group, I have developed my career at Sodexo. Contract caterers have a different structure to restaurants so you don't have to leave a company to progress. For instance, you can gain experience in different sectors so you could choose to work in an à la carte restaurant in the corporate services sector or try your hand at hospital catering - it's a broad spectrum.
Was it tough at the bottom of the career ladder?
I loved being a commis chef because it was all about food. However, I was driven to pursue promotion and always had a plan. I reckon it is important to spend time with each employer and get experience in each section of the kitchen.
Is it a good time to be a chef?
I think there are more opportunities for chefs now, especially in contract catering where you can develop with one employer. The difference nowadays is that employers are more focused on retaining jobs and so they provide more training. There is a massive amount of opportunity out there but you need to network to improve as a chef - it's as much about who you know as what you know.
How have you moved training on?
We have a basic induction course and we regularly put chefs through butchery or fish-filleting courses and so on, but we also link the practical side to the needs of our business. For instance, we look at what type of fish we should be filleting for a particular segment of the business. And we make sure they are exposed to competitions and get experience of aspirational work.
What's next for you?
The band is narrower at the top of the tree. At this level it is more about staying ahead of trends and passing on what I know to less experienced chefs. I also have more opportunity to get involved in industry initiatives such as Hotelympia.
SODEXO IN A NUTSHELL
- An international contract caterer providing catering and other services to 2,300 client locations across all sectors from education and hospitals to blue-chip City offices and oil rigs
- Employs 43,000 people in the UK
- Strong training programme
- For career information, log on to www.uk.sodexo.com/uken/careers
TOP TIPS TO THE TOP
- Choose an employer who has a career development programme in place or who can act as your mentor
- Avoid peppering your CV with too many job-changes
- Find a mentor
- Make sure you network - it's as much who you know as what you know