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The Caterer

Paul Gould, group executive head chef, NEC Group

03 February 2006
Paul Gould, group executive head chef, NEC Group

Paul Gould is celebrating more than 30 years with Birmingham's international exhibition centre owner. He started as head chef at one restaurant there in 1975, just before the NEC, also celebrating 30 years, opened to the public.

Since his promotion to his current role in 1990, Gould has taken over the management of 80 chefs and catering at the NEC, the International Convention Centre, the National Indoor Arena and Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

The 52-year-old chef looks after planning and menu development ranging from VIP fine dining to fast food for the show-going public. In a typical day, he might oversee a banquet for 2,000 people, look after a buffet for 1,500 and deliver fine dining for 500.

"When I started, we had halls one to five at the NEC; now there are 20," says Gould. "I had been working at the Royal Bath hotel in Bournemouth earning £22 a week, and after being invited up to the unfinished NEC for a job, I returned to my wife and said we'd won the pools - I'd be getting £40 a week."

Gould praises the public's much-improved knowledge of food these days, something he says makes his job planning menus for events much easier.

"We've just finished hosting the Furniture Show, where we had 22 different styles of food available to delegates," he says.

He also thinks the current celebrity status of chefs has improved the image of the industry as a whole.

Planning is paramount in his role, which is mainly one of menu development. He is already considering options for next year's events and has even taken to going on cruise holidays in recent years to find inspiration in different countries on his "busman's holiday".

Being adaptable and good at thinking on your feet is also a must. "I guess one of my problems is that I find it hard to switch off," he concedes. "But it means that I always aim to do better and keep pushing, pushing, pushing."

Although he has friends who run their own restaurants, he has no regrets that he's stayed where he is for so long.

"No two days are the same here, and there's so much variety in food style and scale that I'm always being challenged," he says.

Salary watch: What head/executive chefs should be earning

LowNormalHigh
Three-star, up to 100 rooms £23,000 £26,000-28,000 £30,000
Three-star, 100 rooms-plus £24,000 £26,000-29,000 £33,000
Four-star, up to 100 rooms £26,000 £30,000-34,000 £38,000
Four-star, 100 rooms-plus £29,000 £32,000-40,000 £62,000
Five-star, up to 100 rooms £33,000 £40,000-48,000 £65,000
Five-star, 100 rooms-plus £35,000 £65,000-80,000 £124,000
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