Working a Christmas shift in a care home is often thought to be a slightly slower paced shift than your average shift in a restaurant at Christmas, but we wanted to know if it as easy as it would seem when your customers and their families have notoriously high expectations and very exacting standards.
We spoke to Blue Arrow Chef, William Milne to find out what working in a care home at Christmas is really like and how lavish an affair it can be.
Where do you currently work?
I currently work at the Harry Potter Studies. I have been there for over a year now, previously in recent years I have worked in care homes for Blue Arrow.
How did you find yourself working as a Chef for Blue Arrow?
I retired 3 years ago and after 6 months I had done everything I needed to do so I was bored. I decided to go back to work and join Blue Arrow, I have been happily working hard ever since.
How long have you been a Chef?
Oh, 50 years now, so just a wee tad of experience. I started at 13 in hotel kitchens and now I am 64 and still going.
How many Christmases have you worked?
I have worked I would say 89% of them in all of my years, many of them in recently in care homes. This Christmas I won’t be working as my daughter had a baby and it will be our first Christmas with her, she is just 9 months old.
What were your Christmas shifts like in the care home?
They were really quite long, around 15 hrs day. We start early to prep everything so our shift would usually run from 6am to 9pm. We served two very high quality festive meals; the main Christmas lunch followed by a festive buffet in the evening. There were many elements to each so it takes quite a bit of preparation work.
Did you get extra food budget to make the Christmas lunch extra special?
I was fortunate enough to work in a really nice care home where money wasn’t really a problem. The quality and range of the food on offer was much more important so we had a lot of scope to make the Christmas dinner really great and I was able to design the menu to have some really nice elements.
What did your Christmas lunch menu include?
It was quite a vast menu and I can’t remember all of it, but I know we had;
- Smoked salmon.
- Petit fours.
- Vegetarian pie.
- Game soup.
- Monk fish wrapped in pancetta and in a cream sauce.
- Roast turkey with all of the trimmings, of course.
- Fillet steak, Scottish style with Haggis of course.
- Vegetarian wellington.
- Xmas pudding with brandy and a white rum sauce made from scratch the old fashioned way
Later in the evening there would be a Christmas buffet too.
Cooking everything from scratch in the traditional way was important, the residents expect quality food and as a Chef I want everything to be made properly.
What other things were organised make the care home residents feel festive?
After Christmas lunch there was singing for all the residents and their visiting families to enjoy. The home was always extravagantly decorated, they really do make sure that everything feels as Christmassy as possible.
Did you only do a festive menu on Christmas day or was Boxing day just as special?
On Boxing day many of the residents were with their families for all or part of the day but for those who were home, we would prepare a light festive lunch followed by an evening buffet, along with mince pies of course.
Did you have more staff on at Christmas to help share the load?
We didn’t have any more staff than usual. We had a Head Chef, two other Chefs and two Kitchen Porters so five of us in total.
How do you still enjoy a festive Christmas of your own after such a long busy shift?
I would go home and open a bottle port. I would have a wee dram and a lump of cheese then fall asleep. The perfect Christmas!
We would have our proper Christmas in January when all the chaos has died down. That way we get to shop for gifts in the January sales too. To be honest, for me Christmas is just an oversized roast dinner, so I really don’t mind working.
Did you enjoy working in a Care home at Christmas?
Yes, I don’t mind it at all. It is nice to design the menu and create some really nice dishes.
If you could give one piece of advice to a chef just entering the trade what would it be?
I would say to stay away from all the rubbish fast food places, go to London if you want to learn the trade properly there is much more opportunity there.
I started working in a 5 star hotel when I was just 13 and I worked my way up just like you are supposed to.
Definitely travel the world if you can and learn as much from it as possible. By the time I was 25 I was high up on the cruise ships and I got so much experience from it.
Lastly, set your sights high for sure but keep your head out of the clouds. This trade is not about money, at least not in the early days, it’s about learning the craft first and it will all come right in the end.