Meet the chefs & teams of Ireland’s professional kitchens, with Chef Network
The Chef Network community brings together chefs at all levels from all sectors across Ireland. In a Hotel & Restaurant Times regular column we meet some members and hear from them what inspires and motivates them, their career challenges and opportunities, and how they believe we can improve the industry.
In this edition, we meet David Gillmore. David knew from an early age that he wanted to be a Chef. He started his career with an apprenticeship in his local Holiday Inn before moving up the ranks in to numerous luxury hotel kitchens. He moved to Northern Island with his wife, where he is now Executive Head Chef at Galgorm.
1. Why did you become a Chef?
The decision to become a Chef was a very conscious one when I was in high school. I had to choose home economics in school as I was, and still am, terrible at woodwork and DIY. I then discovered that I enjoyed cooking and decided that I wanted to be a Chef. I also used to watch Gary Rhodes in a series he had on television. He came across very well and he became someone I admired – and still do. I was delighted that I was able to meet him when he came to The Chester Grosvenor a couple of times while I was working there.
2. What was your path to where you are today?
I left school at 16 and started work as an apprentice, going to college one day per week. I began the apprenticeship at a local Holiday Inn and then moved to The Chester Grosvenor Hotel. In the area where I grew up, The Chester Grosvenor was an iconic, luxury five-star city centre hotel. It was my first experience of Michelin star standards and a large kitchen, which was run like a military operation. I started petrified but, over time, as I started to increase my knowledge and experience and rise through the ranks, I gained an immense sense of achievement. Whilst the hours were long, I enjoyed the feeling of being part of a different world and I realised that this was the level at which I wanted my career to be.
Following my apprenticeship, I worked with a Chef called John Campbell at Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds. This was in the early 2000s - at a time when we had ice cream on savory dishes and it was my first experience of cooking that was directed by science. I continued to work with him at The Vineyard at Stockcross in Newbury, also working alongside Nathan Outlaw.
I later returned to The Chester Grosvenor in a senior position when I relocated back to the area where I had grown up. Simon Radley was still the Executive Chef, as he was when I had worked there initially. He was a Chef who kept himself away from any limelight but was a great role model and an example of how to lead a multi-outlet hotel at a very high standard.
I progressed from there into my first Executive Chef role at Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa and won three rosettes in the restaurant. It was a learning curve in terms of managing and cooking at the same time.
After getting married to my wife Rachel, who is from Northern Ireland, we moved to Belfast and I spent eight years working for Niall McKenna at James Street South, Hadskis and James Street South Cookery School. I worked closely with restaurant owners and learnt to be more confident, by talking in front of people and teaching within the cookery school.
I then moved to my current role of Executive Head Chef here at Galgorm.
3. What are some of the highlights of your career to date or some of the periods/aspects of your time as a chef that you have most enjoyed?
A key highlight of my career was cooking for members of the Royal Family while working for The Duke of Westminster. I’m also proud of achieving three Rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide as well as numerous awards while working in James Street South, including from the Irish Restaurant Awards and the Waitrose Good Food Guide awards and Georgina Campbell’s Restaurant of the Year.
My first experience working in a five-star hotel was something that has stuck with me and shaped me into who I am today. Without that experience, I would never have had the career I have had to date. Working within the best establishments from an early age is something I would encourage everyone to do.
4. What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
Initially, when I was at the beginning of my career, I struggled to believe that I was good enough to work at the highest level. Appreciation can oftentimes be overlooked in the profession and this is something I quickly learned in my early years working as a Chef. I had to remind myself that just because you aren’t continuously being praised, that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not doing a great job.
Integrating into new teams when you start a new job, proving your worth, and showing the new staff around you that you have the capability to succeed is also a challenge, as is adapting to the unique ways of working under a new Chef. This helps mould you into the Chef you want to be and influences the way you treat people once you have reached a senior position.
Cooking for large numbers can be a big challenge in our industry, so you need to be able to rely on your team and trust the methods and ways you know work. There is of course an increased risk factor when working with very large numbers but the satisfaction of being successful afterwards is very rewarding.
Balancing the life of a Chef and a parent is something I’m not sure you ever overcome, you just adjust, but it is certainly one of the biggest challenges.
5. What is the most important ingredient in your success to date?
I believe work ethic and adaptability are key ingredients in my own personal success. I come from a family where older grandparents continued to work past retirement age and this drives me to work hard as they did. Adaptability is also key and it is important to know which battles to fight and which to move on from. Chefs by nature can spend a lot of time fighting the problem rather than looking at solutions. Don’t get me wrong, we all make decisions that don’t work out, but it’s how we react afterwards that matters.
6. Tell us about your work environment and the team you work with
I joined Galgorm just before Christmas 2021, so it is not a team I have known all that long. There are a couple of staff with whom I have worked previously, so obviously that helps with communication and expectations. I try to speak to every member of the kitchen staff each day when I arrive as I feel it’s important to have that moment with everyone and build mutual respect. It was something I experienced in a kitchen in France and think it helps build the team environment. Man-management is a big part of the role - treating people as individuals and knowing your team well enough that you can sense if something is not right.
The senior members of the kitchen team were great in helping me settle in quickly when I first started. It doesn’t matter how long you have been working in the industry, when you begin a new job in a new environment, you still need the knowledge, experience, and support from existing staff to make the transition easier.
I’m motivated by wanting to be better and more successful. I want the hotel and food to be talked about in a positive manner and for Galgorm to be held up with the best there is in the UK and Ireland.
7. The Chef Network Kitchen Workplace Charter aims to create a positive and nurturing work environment in kitchens, which point(s) of the charter do you feel are most important and can you share examples of practices from your own kitchen that help you to achieve these principles?
I feel that one of the most important aspects of the charter is “To build a positive and encouraging environment.” This is something I have made an active effort to work on over the past few years. Whilst working in some high-end, demanding kitchens, it was always about the result and not necessarily about how we got there. As you get older, and especially if you have your own children, it gives you more empathy about the type of environment you would want for them and others. Greeting everyone each morning and creating that mutual respect starts the day in the right manner. It is important to choose your words and the delivery carefully, to ensure a better outcome. Telling someone we need to be better or correcting something doesn’t need to be an attack on them as an individual. I try to create an environment that lets people speak up and an environment in which they feel comfortable, to help them be the best version of who they are.
Another important aspect of the charter is to “Prioritise work life balance.” We try to be mindful of the previous week’s rota when designing the new week to prevent where possible a real lengthy run of consecutive days. We also try to balance shift patterns between late finishes and early starts. I’ve always believed that everyone has something just as important to them as the next person. What is important to the 18-year-old commis chef is always going to be different to the Sous Chef with a wife and small children, but that is never comparable, it’s just different. Avoiding making contact on days off, letting people know that an email can be replied to when they are back working, or where possible holding off and talking about it in person, can all make a huge difference to work life balance.
8. What is the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
The most important lesson I have learned about being a leader in a kitchen is that people react to how you behave. If you’re stressed, they will be stressed, and if you are calm, likewise, they will react to that. A kitchen that is always on edge isn’t a great environment to be in, and people will follow your lead, in terms of work ethic and adaptability. It is important to give people confidence, and make them believe they are capable, by showing them, and teaching them. As a leader, you want to empower your team to feel like they can achieve the standards required regardless of how busy a particular service might get.
QUICKFIRE Q & A
What I love most is: Every day throws up different challenges.
The biggest challenge is: Keeping everyone motivated.
What makes me most proud is: Seeing a constant improvement in everything we do.
The most difficult thing I have had to face is: Leaving your loved ones at Christmas or family occasions to go to work.
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is: Getting through a day or service when you were facing adversity.
I have learned that: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today.
The key skills or traits to have in this job are: Work ethic, adaptability and a willingness to learn.
We can create a better workplace by: Creating the right environment.
My advice to chefs starting out is: Look for solutions, rather than focusing on the problem.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career is: Be fully committed.
My greatest mentor has been: Simon Radley.
My biggest inspiration is: My children.
My favourite job ever: I’m fortunate to have experienced a range of roles, all of which have ultimately set me in good stead for my role at Galgorm.
My favourite thing to eat is: Cheese on toast.
My favourite dish on our menu is: I have a real sweet tooth, so naturally I gravitate towards the pastry menu and like to be involved in its development. I love a classic like the Sticky Toffee Pudding or the Chocolate Brownie Sundae in Gillies. The Coconut and Mango Sundae in the Castle Kitchen & Bar is also a favourite of mine. There is something about a tall glass layered with ice cream, sauce, and different textures and temperatures that is just pure indulgence. That for me is the perfect end to a meal.
My favourite piece of kit/equipment is: A Rational oven.
Something I would like to learn is: A foreign language.
How I keep or attract staff: Provide a working environment that is enjoyable and make them feel valued.