Do you have a training scheme?
Yes, but it's not a formal structure. Some of my trainees have been fresh out of college, others have been late career-changes. My brigade and I are encouraging and welcoming. There's lots of repetition ą as in any job ą but there's no point making them peel onions for six months. I make sure that they do something each day that makes them go home and think "I enjoyed that". I keep building them up; not tearing them to shreds. They don't get certificates, they get fair pay, knowledge and praise where due.
Is there a screening system? I get you to fry an egg on your trial day. Sounds simple, but one guy was so stressed afterwards that his dad rang to say he wasn't coming back. Another guy dropped his egg on the stove, but he just turned round and asked for another one.
How do you train them? I think you learn more from making mistakes than being worked into the ground. They do seven shifts across a five-day week (about 45 hours). Any less and nothing they learnt would stick and they need to see that the higher up the ladder you go, the longer the hours are. They do a few days' orientation first ą the other chefs make them taste lots of things and they spend half an hour in the dining room with Eric [Garnier] to see what happens when the food leaves the kitchen.
What are the signs that a chef will go far? I look for unbridled enthusiasm and passion. It's a good sign if somebody is constantly asking for something to do, asking if they can taste things. We sell a lot of calves' brains here but if a chef won't even try it then I think they are limiting themselves. I'd rather they tried it and spat it out.
Do successful chefs have to start from college? Well, I've got a 26-year-old trainee who used to be a fashion stylist and has taken a big drop in salary because she has always wanted to be a chef. She sees more of her son now and says she has yet to wake up and think: "I don't want to go into work". When I was at Harvey Nichols' Fifth Floor, a 30-year-old guy who used to work at M&S food division came to see me and said he wanted to be a chef and was prepared to start at the bottom. Within five years he was a junior sous chef and now he runs his own pub near Silverstone.
What should aspiring chefs look for in an employer? It's important to be given responsibility. You need the drive and personality to succeed but you also need an employer who trusts you and can give you that. You also need to understand success won't be handed to you on a plate.
Who inspired you? I admire chefs such as John Williams. When he was at Claridge's he ran a proper apprenticeship scheme where young chefs learnt butchery, fish filleting and making stocks. They are now some of the best chefs to work with. I also admire Simon Hopkinson, who has been my mentor. I worked for him for seven years. But I also had to put a lot into it myself. To be a good chef you have to be humble and constantly think: "I want to be the greatest, how can I achieve that?"
Racine: 239 Brompton Road, London SW3 2EP.
Tel: 020 7584 4900
Corus Hotels' Chef School 2005
Midmarket hotel group Corus Hotels has launched Chef School 2005, its biggest-ever search for the next generation of British culinary talent.
The scheme ą which has trained more than 50 youngsters since its introduction in 2003 ą is looking for at least 40 people aged 16-24. Selected students will be employed as trainee apprentice chefs on a full-time wage and will be expected to reach NVQ Level 2 in food preparation by the end of the
12-month programme. Apprentices will be placed in each of Corus's
40-plus hotels across the UK.
The course has been developed with the Hotel and Catering Training Company. To apply, log on to www.corushotels.com/talentspotting or e-mail
with your contact details and CV.