I’ve grown up in hospitality. Mum and Dad bought Titchwell Manor when I was 8 years old. I never had early dreams of being a chef or working in hospitality – I really didn’t know what I wanted to do – but I think looking back I was always likely to go into the family business. I’d been brought up surrounded by the highs and lows of working in a hotel, so it all felt quite natural to me. It must be like being brought up on a farm and then becoming a farmer: you are training and learning the trade even when you don’t realise it.
Probably the biggest lesson was understanding the 24/7 nature of hospitality, and accepting that the business often takes priority over your private life. I guess it’s the same whatever the sector; the business has to succeed, so it often comes first.
I sometimes felt a little restricted working in the family business because it meant I couldn’t go and work in different kitchens to develop my skills as a chef. But at the same time I was always aware that a lot of chefs, much better than me, didn’t have the opportunity to run their own business or enjoy the creative freedom that gives. I’ve always made sure I appreciate and remember that.
Everyone has their own story, but that’s mine; that’s how I got into hospitality.
The industry is currently struggling with a shortage of people, especially chefs. During the first lockdown a lot took other jobs, and then found they quite liked having weekends and evenings off so didn’t come back. There has been a change in culture as well. When I was a young chef we were almost proud to be working 60 hours a week; we certainly didn’t question it. But things are changing for the better. Now, chefs don’t want to work over 45-50 hours, and employers are trying to make the industry more appealing. We changed to a 4-day week for chefs about 10 years ago, when hardly any other companies were doing that. Now it’s quite common. We try to keep all our team under an average of 47 hours a week, and if they work over this we pay an hourly rate, so at least they get the financial reward for putting the hours in. We also stopped serving lunches which means the team can do straight shifts starting whenever they need in order to be ready for the evening service. I think the trust and flexibility we give the kitchen is appreciated.
I hope these changes, along with the noticeable increase in pay for chef roles, will mean that more people are attracted to the trade. It is a fantastic vocation with so many positives to balance out the difficult working hours and pressures. I’ve always loved the creative side of being a chef; you can constantly challenge yourself to come up with original ideas and you receive instant feedback from guests. The opportunities to train on the job and constantly learn from your team or others is great too; the chances to travel are endless, and the range of jobs is huge. But probably the biggest thing for me is the variety of people and characters you work with, all with their unique personal stories.
A Passion to Inspire
A Passion to Inspire is a inter-collegiate competition for chefs and front of house students that I have been proud to be part of since its launch in 2009. We hold heats at colleges across the east of England, and a winning team of two chefs and one front of house student from each college go through to the finals. We invite local chefs and managers to mentor each team as they prepare, choosing people who are good, supportive local employers. At the finals, the pressure is on, with our chef judges this year including Mark Poynton, Adam Smith and Daniel Clifford. It was quite the line-up – I’m glad I wasn’t being judged!
Passion to Inspire builds vital connections between education and industry, and gives students the opportunity to meet potential employers. It’s been very successful at identifying new talent, and giving young people the confidence to go for the jobs they deserve. Long may it continue!