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 Michelle Daly. Michelle began her Chef journey at an early age, when she worked in kitchens on weekends while in school. Her passion has lead her to the UK & Australia, working in kitchens small & large. Michelle is currently a Development Chef with Sodexo.
1.Why did you become a Chef?
For me, I have always loved the feeling of camaraderie in the kitchen. I started working in restaurants on the weekends when I was in school and I was immediately drawn to the fast-paced, sink or swim environment. When I enrolled in culinary school, I studied at a live-in college in Ireland. Every six months a different group of students would take over a hotel ౼ we were both the guests and the staff. Depending on your area of study, you’d run a different part of the hotel. I was in the kitchen while other classmates ran reception, served in the dining room, etc. It was a wonderful experience and my first time creating a sort of “culinary family.”
2.What was your path to where you are today?
After my studies, I worked in kitchens in Ireland, England, and Australia ౼ everything from a tiny boutique hotel in Edinburgh to an outside catering company where I’d cater massive meals for thousands of people. It was very varied and kept me on my toes! Through these different experiences, I learned how important it is to say yes to opportunity ౼ and also how equally important it is to say no if you think it’s going to overload you. When you’re overloaded, you’ll never be able to put in 100%. You have got to be passionate about what you do, otherwise, it affects you and it affects your colleagues around you. One of the things that I love about working at Sodexo is that there are so many opportunities at every level of the company. I’ve really been able to take advantage of those opportunities on a personal level. In fact, this past summer, I earned a BA in Business Studies. The company supported me with time allowances on projects and I was able to use Sodexo as my guinea pig for assignments!
3.What is the most important ingredient in your success to date?
Throughout my career, I’ve made a point to learn as much as I could everywhere I went, to take as much as I could out of every experience. That mindset has helped me grow and has gotten me to where I am today
4.Tell us about the team you work with
The vast majority of chefs spend more time in the kitchen than with their own families, so the workplace becomes a kind of second family. I believe that if you're going to be around a group of people for a significant amount of time, you’ve got to find your niche, that place that you can feel good about going to every morning when you wake up.
In my current position at Sodexo as a Development Chef for the Food platform in Ireland, my day to day is extremely varied. Together with my team, we create new food offers, build regional menus, look at insight and feedback, test recipes and try to find ways to work smarter. We serve clients in schools, corporate offices, manufacturing companies, and even major government contracts. I liaise with segments, supply management, branding, marketing, the list goes on. I’m able to touch base with a lot more people in a lot more segments, which is very challenging and also rewarding at the same time. There's no job fatigue because there's so much to learn and to do.
5.What is the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
With every change, I’ve found that the most important thing is to be passionate about what you're doing and who you're doing it with.
QUICKFIRE Q & A
The biggest challenge is: at 5ft, my height, not easy reaching the back pot on a stove
The most difficult thing I have had to face is: criticism
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is: taking criticism onboard and turning it into good feedback
I have learned that: old age saying: you can’t please everyone all the time
The key skills or traits to have in this job are: willingness to adapt
My advice to chefs starting out is: be willing to adapt!
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career is: assess what you want as an end result and take the steps to get there (assess if you can take the bigger risks or smaller ones at each stage, but just take a step)
My greatest mentor has been: Mercy Fenton. She led by example every day and didn’t hesitate in giving her time in showing you new skills (deboning a full lamb during her split). She was one of the strongest female chefs I was able to emulate as a younger chef,
My favourite job ever: Dipping Marshmallow wafer cups in chocolate! My first job in a handmade sweet factory, I used to go home smelling of clove rock.
My favourite place to eat is: In the Sun!! The sun makes everything better
My favourite thing to eat is: anything served up to me with a smile
My favourite piece of kit is: good shoes so you can carry whatever the day throws at you