In this edition, we meet Glen Wheeler, Chef & Owner of 28 Darling Street in Co. Fermanagh
Why did you become a chef?
I actually fell into the whole thing honestly. When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a barman. I wanted to work in front of house and be in behind the bar, talking to people. At 15 I got my first part-time job and that really affected my schoolwork. My grades started to suffer and when I told my career-guidance teacher that I wanted to become a plumber he told me to jog on. When he found out my grades were low due to the part-time job, he told me to apply for a position in the local hotel up in the town. I found that I really did enjoy working in hospitality and ended up going into a Catering & Hospitality course here in Enniskillen. My 1st year in the course I had no interest, I wanted to work behind the bar and that was that. In one of our first lectures, Neven Maguire came into the class to speak to us. I met with Neven and later in my 2nd year he asked me to come and work for him on a trial basis, and that’s pretty much how it all started.
What was your path to where you are today?
Starting my trials in Neven’s kitchen was where it all started for me really. Neven wanted me to learn everything he knew, and his enthusiasm was infectious. I grew up in MacNean House. I really did start at the bottom, when I first went into the kitchen, I didn’t know any of the basics, I didn’t know how to peel a carrot or cook an egg, but I began to learn. MacNean House would close every January as a break and that’s when I’d really step up. I decided to spend all of January going on different stages around the world. I’ve done work experience in some of the best restaurants around, such as Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, Noma in Copenhagen, Alinea in Chicago, The Ledbury in London and so many others. I’d come back into the kitchen refreshed and ready to put into practice what I’d learned. The advice I’d always give to anyone looking to do this is that you’re committing your life to this profession, so why wouldn’t you want to be the best. Go and learn from others and take that back to your own kitchen.
My career really developed under Neven. I came through the ranks in his kitchen, I worked my way up and eventually was promoted to head chef of the kitchen at only 24. Neven was brilliant to us, we’d eat out often as a team, he’d even bring us across the world to eat at different restaurants and learn from other chefs. He flew us to Barcelona, Paris and other amazing cities just to learn and grow.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to try things out for myself and set up my own restaurant. Five years ago, I did just that. It’s been a tough road, but I’ve enjoyed the journey and learning from everyone I meet.
What’s the most important ingredient in your success to date?
Hard Work. Literally.
Tell us about the team you work with
When I worked with Neven, I had a team of 17 working with me in the kitchen. Now that I’m in my own place there’s only 2 of us working in the kitchen itself. My and my brother-in-law, Paul.
Paul also started work with Neven. He began in the kitchen when he was 12. He’s quite a particular person, so when he’d come into the kitchen we’d give him little jobs to start off with, he’d learn to do them really well and then move onto something new, building his way up to bigger dishes. Now, I don’t know anybody who can cook fish like Paul, he’s fantastic.
We’ve a very small team here at 28 Darling Street. There’s about 14-15 of us all together. We’re all friends here. We’ve definitely tried to build that bond with the team. Everyone is involved with all the tastings and training that we do. We treat everyone like family, that’s something I’ve brought from Neven’s kitchen. It’s a high-pressure environment, but I think if everyone enjoys working together then everything runs smoother.
“We treat everyone like family”
Have you seen a negative side of the industry in your experience?
I think every industry sees a negative side. Of course, in the past there’s been incidents, thankfully I do believe that it’s a thing of the past. It’s not allowed anymore. You can’t afford to treat your staff poorly. There’s such a demand for chefs at the moment that if you want to keep your staff, you need to treat them well. If people don’t want to work for you, they don’t have to.
We have a small team here, and we treat everyone like family. Work-life balance is a really important thing to us here as well. We work 4 days a week and take the other 3 days off, letting our staff have a social life and come back into work refreshed.
“If you want to keep your staff, you need to treat them well”
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?
I think the key principle for me, would have to be ‘Giving back to the Chef Community’. We need to ensure the future of our industry. I can’t understand this not wanting to share your recipes and knowledge with the younger chefs. We should encourage the young chefs to get involved. It’ll lead to a more exciting future for the industry.
I used to do some teaching in the college here, I loved going into the students and showing them new skills and techniques. I think I’d like to go back to doing that again in the future. Being able to teach someone and give them confidence in what they do is a fantastic feeling and something we need to do more of.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
Organisation is key. As the saying goes ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, it really is true.
I became a head chef quite young, and so I had to learn quickly what was expected and needed from me in the kitchen. I went on different stages to try and see how other head chefs handled the pressure in the kitchen and what they did that I could learn from. The main thing that it kept coming back to for me was working smarter, not harder and being organised. You don’t want to constantly be chasing your tail. You need to get ahead of the game and be prepared.
BEING A CHEF….
What I love most is… The buzz of the kitchen and the learning, you’re always learning
What makes me most proud is…Owning my own restaurant and being able to cook my own dishes & recipes.
The most difficult thing I have had to face is…Definitely taking part in the ‘Great British Menu’, that was tougher than opening up my own restaurant.
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is…Opening my own restaurant
I have learned that…Anything is possible
The key skills or traits to have in this job are…Dedication, hard work, a willingness to learn and loyalty
We can create a better workplace by…being nice to each other
One small change I’d like to see is…more workshops for chefs. I think what Chef Network and Food on the Edge are doing is brilliant, chefs get to meet and exchange stories & network. I remember driving home from Food on the Edge dizzy from everything I’d learned, it was unbelievable. We definitely work in the best industry!
My advice to chefs starting out is…Aim for the top and always work for people that respect you.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career…Stay Humble. Don’t get over-confident. Do stages, you can always learn something new, we’re always learning.
My advice to any chef opening up their own place…Be patient. Stick to the plan you set out and stick to what you believe.
My greatest mentor has been…Neven Maguire
My biggest inspiration is… My 2 young girls; Mitzi & Marlie –I like to bring them into the kitchen when we’re closed if I have prep work to do, they make it all worthwhile and their people skills are second to none!
My favourite place to eat is…The Greenhouse
My favourite thing to eat is…The Lobster Ravioli from Restaurant Gordon Ramsey
My favourite dish on our menu is…Our Salt Baked Beetroot, Creamed Goat cheese & Organic Salad
My favourite piece of kit is…My knives, I don’t think they ever leave my hands!
Something I’d still like to learn is…How to brew my own beer
How to keep/attract staff? Treat them like family. You want your team to enjoy working with you and be able to learn while they’re there. The staff you have are the most important element in your business, if they’re happy, your customer is happy!
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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.
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