We all hear it every day; “time is money” but in the food industry we have to be careful when trying to save time in a commercial kitchen. No one wants to compromise the quality of the food we serve, so time saving has to be about streamlining not about cutting corners.
We spoke with Nigel Sheehan a Blue Arrow Chef with an astonishing 42 years experience in the industry about his time saving tricks, team management tips and a few words of wisdom for new Chefs coming into the trade.
Where do you currently work?
At this moment I work in an old people’s home as a Chef.
How long have you been a Chef?
I have been working as a Chef since 1977.
How much time do you have in a commercial kitchen to prep and cook before service?
It’s always different depending on the location and the type of food you are serving. If it's breakfast, there is less prep to do so you are serving quickly after you have arrived at work but usually on average it is around 3 hours for a dinner service. Sometimes you need to have it prepped, cooked and served quickly but not often.
What is your favorite kitchen time saving tool?
Actually, it would be the ovens, the good ones I mean. They are worth around 5k-20k and they have everything combined, steamer, bake, grill, cook, everything. A great oven is hands down the best time saver.
Do you have any top time saving tips you could share?
Henry Ford once said give the laziest person the hardest job and they will find the quickest way to do it. But in all seriousness, it is about using your brain, be logical and practical. Prep everything at once for all dishes and make sure you have a sharp knife. These things sound obvious, but you would be surprised by how many don’t think of it. Most of all, be organized, it is best to be looking at something, not for something.
If you could only choose 1 kitchen time saving tool what would it be?
Aside from the oven, it would have to be a food processor.
How do you streamline your team to maximise the available time?
Get to know your team, find who is best at what job. Someone might be inventive with salads, others with plating up mains, so use the team for their strengths. Encourage stronger people to help the weaker so everyone learns from every service.
Is your entire team encouraged to share ideas and implement time saving methods?
Day to day it is down to the head chef to streamline the team and come up with inventive ideas but sometimes there will be a briefing session where ideas can be shared. It is important that you involve the whole team so a dedicated meeting now and then for ideas is a great way to bond the team together.
Do you find innovation is stifled or embraced by the older generation of Chefs?
People don’t tend to like change, they can be very resistant to different ways of working so when you first come in to a kitchen you can find that they are a little negative about adopting ideas. Many will say they have already tried that, and it didn’t work for example, but you just have to work with everyone’s personalities and encourage them slowly to see the potential benefits to the new ways of doing things
How much can you prepare ahead of time?
Legally you can prep food 3 days in advance, but it does depend on the type of food. Always rely on your training and knowledge and if in doubt prep it fresh.
How much time do you need to prepare fresh to order?
It depends on your location, the number of covers you are doing and the policies of the kitchen you are working in. More people to feed means more food to be prepped but this generally comes with more kitchen staff.
Do you re-use left overs to create a new dish? If so, what is your go to dish?
Yes sometimes. You can turn a bolognaise into a lasagna for instance or many things can become a curry with some extra veg and some spices. If you are doing this, it is best to freeze the left overs and send it out as something else the following week, not the next day, because if the people you are serving are there every day they can quickly work out what was yesterday’s dinner.
If you could give one piece of advice to a Chef just entering the trade what would it be?
If you want to be a celebrity, find another career. It is by no means an easy career and reaching celeb status is exceptionally rare. You have to love it; you must have a passion for food because without that it is a hard career to be in and you will quickly lose interest. I always say; you can always learn something new so keep your eyes open, you have to like it and people need to like you, don’t bully, don’t stand for being bullied and always do your best.