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 Derek Reilly. Derek has been almost 30 years working in the hospitality industry and remains as enthusiastic, passionate & inspired as he was the very first time he stepped into a professional kitchen, his hunger for Culinary knowledge, food innovation, craft development & training is what drives his obsession with developing & nurturing Culinary talent within our industry.
Why did you become a Chef?
I would love to say I was inspired by my mother or grandmother’s cooking or I grow up on a farm surrounded by amazing fresh produce, however my honest answer is when I left school I did not know what I wanted to do. Under pressure from my parents to either get a job or do a course I enrolled in Crumlin College on a Culinary Arts program. I was not entirely sure I made the right choice having to wear a long apron and tall white, this was not very cool when you’re a teenager! All my friends where apprentice carpenters or plumbers etc., and I was cooking and baking. It was not until I went on my eight week work experience placement to Coffers Restaurant in Dublin City Centre, AA Rosette, Michelin Gourmet Bib with a massive brigade of fluent French speaking chefs doing 100 covers for lunch & dining 6 days a week, split shifts a head chef that even Gordan Ramsey didn’t have a patch on in terms of temperament and discipline, that I was sure of my decision. From the very first day I stepped in to a professional kitchen I knew I had found my career calling, through all the fear and my lack of culinary knowledge I absolutely loved the whole atmosphere, learning through every service and every mis en place list, I didn’t notice the 16 hour shift go by What stands out to me to this day was that because the chefs saw a very nervous person but a very positive can do attitude in me they collectively nurtured, mentored, supported, and taught me so much, while I perfected my skills. What was an 8-week placement ended up lasting 3 years working my way up to head commis chef!
What was your path to where you are today?
From my first job in Coffers Restaurant after a three year stint there I knew I needed to move on and gain more experience. The head chef in Coffers was also agreed and arranged a job in De Ja Vo, another fine dining fluent French restaurant with many award winning accolades… no pressure! As Chef De Partie, I realise now that my career was being navigated by my head chef to ensure I had steady progression and expose me to different styles of cookery and techniques. From that point on my culinary journey has given me the most memorable and wonderful work and life experiences. I’ve been extremely lucky to have cooked in many different countries, working in some of the fines restaurants, hotels and venues all over the world. Most of all I am very fortunate to have cooked with, learned from and been mentored by some of my life long chef heroes. Chefs that inspired me to want to be a chef in the first place and that I now call my friends. To this day nearly 30 years later I have the best job ever as Culinary Director at Aramark Northern Europe where I work alongside a Culinary team of highly skilled, highly motivated, multi-talented, razor focused professionals where there’s not a day goes by that we don’t learn, create or innovate.
What is the most important ingredient in your success to date?
Purpose, so I have clarity on my main goals. Passion and self-determination has always driven me to reach them. The support & guidance from others within the hospitality industry has been vital. For me it’s always been about the team and teamwork.
The failures I have had throughout my career have made me resilient and given me a better perspective for analysing what needs to be done to move towards success. The way I see it, every failed attempt simply becomes a new learning experience to fine tune your efforts.
Tell us about the team you work with;
I am very lucky to work in a very large team across many hospitality sectors within Aramark Northern Europe, I am directly and indirectly responsible for approximately 400 chefs. firstly its about treating the team with respect and giving clear and concise communication while ensuring the team have a work-life balance. All these factors are key to ensuring a positive working environment.
I ensure that their creativity and skill set is maximised and that they add real value to the overall team while setting out a clear career path to ensure their growth personally and professionally. I give realistic and achievable targets with work-life balance being top of the agenda. I have seen numerous chefs within the team really excel over the years with the right supports and go on to become exceptional talented leaders within the Aramark business and further afield.
Have you seen a negative side to the industry?
Personally I can say most of the negativity I’ve seen has come from outside the industry, I believe from within our industry there is a very strong camaraderie that becomes infectious, where we instantly protect and support each other. Like all sectors there will always be a minority co-hort who will abuse their position and cast a shadow over the highly skillful and professional industry. However, we have certainly come a very long way in terms of working standards, hours, respect, work-life balance, terms & conditions, mental health etc. It’s a much more open, respectful and transparent Industry from the one I started in many years ago.
The Chef Network Kitchen Charter aims to create a positive and nurturing work environment in kitchens, which point(s) on the charter do you feel are most important and how do you implement these in your own kitchen/business?
PROMOTE LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT –
We have some incredibly talented Chefs in our business and we are keen to continue to nurture and develop their talents. At Aramark, our Chefs have the opportunity to work with some of the industry’s most inspirational figures – whether Chefs, producers or suppliers – we enable our teams to develop their skills set and bring these new skills to life in the kitchen – we hosted over 50 Culinary training events for our chefs in 2019.
The craft training programme develops culinary and managerial skills for chefs at all levels and ensures succession planning for the future. By raising the teams’ ability to deliver at a higher level we improve standards, aid employee retention and ensure that Aramark is seen as a leader in the culinary arena.
What is the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
I have learned to set clear goals with high standards to get the very best from my teams and I’m very aware of the impact my words/actions/emotions have on others. This can have an immense impact and can either build up or tear down their confidence.
Its so important to share recognition with the team and also to give direct feedback, be it good, bad or indifferent.
Continually Inspire the team to reach beyond what is easy, beyond what is simple, this drives innovation and self-confidence while returning targets & results and teamwork.
Being a master communicator is vital to any leadership role!
BEING A CHEF….
What I love most is… A day off to spend time with my family
The biggest challenge is…Communication. If this fails, it has a massive knock on effect
What makes me most proud is… To see young chefs succeed and fulfil their dreams
The most difficult thing I have had to face is…. Recently when I had to temporarily lay-off or furlough chefs because of Covid 19 – all these guys want to do is cook and look after their customers and this was taken away in a split second!
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is…. When I contribute to a chefs career by spending time supporting and mentoring and then seeing them progress and achieving their goals – it’s the most satisfying, proud and rewarding feeling ever!
I have learned that… Its ok to make mistakes – its only food! and life is to short to sweat the small stuff!
THE KEY SKILLS OR TRAITS TO HAVE IN THIS JOB ARE… Patience, resilience, passion and a clear vison of your goals.
WE CAN CREATE A BETTER WORKPLACE BY…. Being respectful to each other.
ONE SMALL CHANGE… listening more.
WE CAN MAKE OUR BUSINESSES BETTER BY…. Collective teamwork.
MY ADVICE TO CHEFS STARTING OUT IS…..follow you dream everything is possible.
MY ADVICE TO CHEFS TRYING TO PROGRESS THEIR CAREER IS….adopt a positive attitude and work hard.
MY ADVICE TO ANY CHEF OPENING THEIR OWN PLACE/SETTING UP A BUSINESS IS…believe in yourself and your concept and stay focused.
MY GREATEST MENTOR HAS BEEN - All the head chefs who took a chance on me.
MY BIGGEST INPIRATION IS Marco Perrier White.
MY FAVOURITE JOB EVER: Aramark Northern Europe.
MY FAVOURITE PLACE TO EAT: Chapter One.
MY FAVOURITE THING TO EAT: fresh fish.
MY FAVOURITE DISH ON OUR MENU – Anything from Avoca Bakery.
MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF KIT Tasting Spoon.
SOMETHING I WOULD LIKE TO LEARN – To switch off!
HOW TO KEEP OR ATTRACT STAFF : Ensure they are given a defined career path and ensue you support them to get there.
MEET THE CHEF PROFILES ARE SUPPORTED BY READY CHEF
Ready Chef is a family-owned and operated business supplying prepared and fresh vegetables, fruits and salads to all strands of the Hospitality Sector, Single Invoice Supplier Operators, Health Care Facilities and the booming Pharma and Tech Sectors.
Originally established by William Tallon Snr. during the 1960s, today his sons William and David carry that legacy and a significantly grown family business forward. From father to sons, total commitment to Quality of Produce and Service, both within the business and from our suppliers are pillars central to the Ready Chef ethos.
Visit our website to learn more readychef.ie
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