Words from the Wise – Matthew Parsons

Words from the Wise – Matthew Parsons

Matthew Parsons, executive chef at Woodland Grange Conference Centre, shares his business secrets

You are only as good as your team
Train them, support them and take an interest in them as people. Lead from the front and you'll be rewarded with loyalty, a willingness to progress and an attitude that money can't buy. Don't ask somebody to do something you wouldn't do yourself. Demonstrate this in action. Each person is responsible for their actions. If, for example, you're a chef de partie, take responsibility for your commis. It's a chain of command and everything rests on the chef's shoulders.

On-the-job training and college-supported training are vital

Cutting corners is not constructive and only leads to cuts in standards and a disinterested team. Food chains and franchises are de-skilling the industry and sadly, colleges are failing students. The skill sets of college leavers are shocking - their weak attention to detail, poor basic skills and methods of cookery. This sees them overwhelmed by the workloads when they enter the trade and it's demoralising for them. It's up to the industry to change this, which is why I invest so much time in mentoring and developing my team.

Ditch the "that will do" attitude to food service
Catering is a highly skilled trade and the public view that anyone can cook is wrong and needs to change. Too many amateurs are opening restaurants. Many of us work long days to ensure we get it right, with years of training to attain the skills required, the passion and the attention to detail. The public need educating about food so they can become less accepting of substandard cooking and processed food.

The range of foods and ingredients available has never been so good
We care more about where food comes from and how it is sourced. Sustainable fisheries, welfare of livestock, local produce and seasonal foods - these represent strong values for me and are certainly not new concepts. Cultural influences are wonderful; different ideas keep life interesting and fresh. Fads may come and go, but well cooked food of any origin will never go out of fashion.

Listen to what your clients are telling you
Don't be conceited and think that you know best. People's eating habits change all the time and their expectations grow, especially with so much food on TV and in the press. Staying close to this ethos has been a major player in how we have moved and changed the menus and dishes served at Woodland Grange. As a business we have grown and to remain strong, we've had to diversify to remain in tune with our customer. Actively seeking their comments and thoughts, then demonstrating that they're acted upon makes them more willing to voice feedback in the future.

Best piece of advice
People do business with people. Make it personable. Get the best out of people, whether they are staff, customers or suppliers. My grandfather always used to say: "ask after their apple trees", which is a lovely way of saying "how are you?" A call or a visit to someone will achieve so much more than a text or an email, and people will go the extra yard to help.

Career highlights

2011 Finalist in Springboard's Best Chef Strategy Award
â- 2004 executive head chef, Woodland Grange, Leamington Spa
â- 2003 One AA rosette as head chef at the Bear hotel, Crickhowell
â- 1997 Two AA rosettes as sous chef at Quorn Grange hotel, Loughborough
â- 1994 One AA rosette as sous chef at Thistle East Midland, Derby

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