Can you tell us a little bit about you and your role as Culinary Director at Compass?
I’ve been working at Compass for nearly 20 years now and have been in the role as Culinary Director since 2012. It’s an incredibly varied role, I get to collaborate with all our sectors and business partners, whilst mentoring apprentices and working with our great team of chefs based at our Innovation Centre.
As someone with valuable experience within the industry, what advice do you have for chefs starting their career in foodservice?
It may sound obvious, but to be a chef you need to really want to be a chef! You need to have that hunger and passion for food and cooking and if you do, ask yourself do you have an affinity with the industry? If the answer is yes, then the best advice I can give is to never stop listening and learning. The great thing about being a chef is that it’s always evolving, whether that’s through different ways of using ingredients, cooking techniques or new equipment. I can’t imagine doing any other job, it’s diverse, interesting and alluring nowadays!
Compass is a Headline Sponsor for International Salon Culinaire at HRC, can you tell us why you think Salon Culinaire and other cooking competitions are important for chefs to take part in?
Competitions play an important role in the development of chefs. They provide new challenges, discipline, organisational and planning skills, which can be brought back to their kitchens and teams
Salon Culinaire gives chefs an opportunity to benchmark themselves against their peers in other parts of the industry. There’s nowhere else chefs could go and cook alongside a head chef at the Ritz and be judged equally, other than a competition.
Within Compass we run our own national competition for our Senior, Junior and Apprentice chefs and over the last 25 years our chefs have won over 3,000 medals in national and international competitions.
As a judge for Salon Culinaire 2020 and in the past, what are the classic errors that you’ve seen chefs make in competitions?
Being unprepared is the most common mistake. Chefs need to arrive properly prepared: work plan, right equipment and ingredients. It is imperative that they get the right support to help them in their preparations – practice is key!
How do you structure the training for a Compass chef entering a competition and do they have a sole mentor?
Our competitors will have at least one mentor, as a business we have sector Culinary Directors and Regional Executive Chefs who are on hand to support at all times. Plus, my door is also always open for any Compass chef thinking about competing.
Encouraging and mentoring chefs is really important and something we’re very good at within Compass – we definitely give our chefs the opportunity to flex their culinary muscle.
We’re especially keen to give our apprentices a chance to compete as the earlier you start the quicker you can grow and improve as a chef. It is also a great learning curve for the mentor so a win-win all round! In addition, we find that supporting chefs through competitions aids retention and helps massively in their development.
What advice do you give to ensure that your chefs choose the right competition to enter?
I tell chefs to choose something which is achievable, something which is a challenge, but not completely out of your comfort zone. I ask them to think about what they excel in, it could be fish, meat, pastry etc. It’s about playing to your strengths.
Whilst taking part in competitions is important to younger chefs, do you think it is still important for more experienced chefs to take part?
Absolutely, it’s aspirational for the younger chefs to see experienced chefs competing. But it can be harder to compete as an experienced chef if they haven’t competed before, as a head chef you’re obviously expected to do well in a competition! Some of our most experienced chefs still compete – look at Steve Groves, Head Chef, Roux at Parliament Square, who won National Chef of the Year 2020.
What three pieces of advice would you give chefs competing in International Salon Culinaire at HRC?
- Practice, practice and practice!
- Believe in yourself and your capabilities.
- Always ask for advice and feedback and make sure you take it on board.
I’ll give you a fourth bit of advice, which is to enjoy it!
In addition to Salon Culinaire why do you think its important to chefs to visit HRC?
Visiting industry shows is really important because it’s a great place to meet other chefs, new suppliers, as well as seeing new innovations and watching chef demos on the Staff Canteen Live. Chefs need to get out of their kitchens and see what is happening outside their bubble.