How can you improve employee productivity in your commercial kitchen when staff safety and food quality are paramount?
The first step is by ensuring your team all know what to expect! The life of a Chef is not for the faint hearted. Long shifts, on your feet all day in a hot commercial kitchen can be tough but with passion and a unwavering desire to make it in the industry most Chefs will take the rough with the smooth doing whatever it takes to cook great food that people come back for time and time again.
To find out more about how Chefs cope under the pressure, we spoke to Simon Temple, a Blue Arrow Chef who values hard work, a close-knit team, new Chef skill development and pulling your weight in the kitchen.
Where do you currently work?
I am working all over for Blue Arrow as a Chef, I suppose you would call it Relief Chef. I like working in the old people’s homes, the hourly rate is pretty good so if you have your DBS they are a good place to be.
How long is the average shift for a kitchen worker?
It is around eight hours. It can be more or less or a split shift. You have legal breaks, sometimes I take them sometimes I don’t it depends on how busy it is and if I have time.
Your feet must hurt from a long shift, how do you cope with it?
By going to the pub and having a nice pint of Cider at the end of the shift! Aching feet is part of the life of a Chef, everyone is in the same boat. I wear steel toe cap clogs but there is no avoiding it really. I come from an old school generation of Chefs where you wouldn’t complain about things like that, it was accepted as part of the job so now it’s just normal.
Repeatedly washing your hands can lead to skin irritation, how do you combat this?
Your hands are in water all day as a Chef, so they toughen up over time and get used to it. I suppose you could moisturize if needed but people don’t tend too, your hands quickly get used to it.
Standing all day and working at a counter can lead to back pain, how do you prevent or relieve this?
I’m 54 and I do ok. You can get back ache now and then, but I think because you are moving around all the time in a kitchen you are not in one place for too long so it isn’t so bad.
How do you keep your team fresh and alert during a long busy service?
When you are working in a highly pressurized environment like a restaurant or kitchen you don’t get chance to feel tired, it’s at the end of the shift when you feel it. Chefs are tough, you won’t hear anyone saying how tired they are, everyone is in the same boat, you are all hot and tired so you tend to just push through it as a team.
How do you stay cool in a hot kitchen?
You can’t, you just have to drink lots of water. Sometimes a kitchen will have air conditioning but more money goes into how the front of house looks so kitchens are mostly secondary to that. When I worked in London their kitchens were underground so ventilation was not great, you do get used to it though.
How do you work effectively with front of house staff to streamline productivity?
I always say you should have good relationship with the front of house staff, you are a team. It is not helpful if the front of house team is scared to come into the kitchen because the Chef is stressed and takes it out on them. Yes, it’s a stressful job but you are a team, you have to work together. Team meetings once a week are good to keep everyone on same page. We used to have one where we would do a bit of wine tasting, it was nice for everyone to be involved together.
Is the menu mainly decided based on productivity, creativity or budget?
A lot of it is based on budget and season, you have a bottom line you have to watch so unfortunately budget has always been the main focus.
If you could give one piece of advice to a Chef just entering the trade what would it be?
It is a tough game so give it 6 months see if you can hack it before you quit. Find a good Head Chef and a team that will look after you and build your confidence, don’t quit the industry before you have tried another team, it can be pot luck. If it’s your passion then even with the stress, the heat, the aches and pains, you will just accept it because you love the job.
Times are so different now to what they were when I first came in to it, now young people are encouraged, helped and supported. We need more Chefs, everywhere you go you will find people looking for Chefs to work in their kitchens so the more we can help and support new people coming through the better.
Do you create dishes at home before adding them to your menu at work?
Yes, I am always Googling menu ideas. I am really in to middle eastern food, I love researching recipes and finding out the stories behind the dishes.
Is the whole kitchen team encouraged to suggest menu ideas and recipes?
Yes, very much so, the idea won’t always make it on to the menu, but it is nice to be included and have your ideas considered. It should always be encouraged by the Head Chef, that way the menu is made up of ideas from a diverse range of palettes. The Head Chef should always be humble enough to take on board ideas from other Chefs. When I worked at a seafood place in Brighton, I would make suggestions all the time and when my idea showed up on the menu it was great to know people were eating and enjoying my choice.
How do you make sure your team have time in shifts to develop their skills?
Morning preparation time is when they learn the most, they are usually taken to one side and given a new skill to try. Even when its busy you have to invest time in developing knowledge and passing on what you know. Very few dishes are original anymore they are all reinventions of other dishes from years of learning. I still have recipes that I was given when I was 16 or 17, I may not use them all the time, but they are written down and I will keep them forever.
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