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 Mark Anderson, Culinary Director for Gather & Gather Ireland and a member of the Chef Network Advisory Council. Mark was one of the first members of Chef Network and has been actively involved in its creation and direction from day one.
Why did you become a chef?
I fell into it really. I didn’t go into cheffing because my mom was a wonderful cook and I discovered that I loved it from an early age, don’t get me wrong she was a fantastic cook, it’s just not how it all started for me.
I had a part-time job in a kitchen when I was young washing dishes. I really loved the buzz and camaraderie in the kitchen and so I decided that I’d go and do a 16-week introduction to catering and kitchens course. I still continued to work weekends and eventually made my way to a 2-year full-time course in culinary arts in Cathal Brugha Street. After I finished my degree course and my final placement, I decided to take some time to go travelling. I travelled all around the world, visited different parts of the USA, UK and Europe and really enjoyed it.
What was your path to where you are today?
I spent the first 6-8 years after college working abroad in different hotels and restaurants. I ended up in London for a bit where I did a number of stages for chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes and Richard Corrigan. I tried my hand at a lot of different kitchens and styles and I really enjoyed it. When I decided to come back to Ireland, I took a job in the Herbert Park Hotel in Dublin. I later moved on and joined the Hilton Hotel where I worked my way up to executive chef.
At the time, I had a young family and the hours I was working didn’t fit into my lifestyle. That’s when I made the decision to switch to workplace catering. I’ve worked in a number of workplace catering companies, including Sodexo & Compass before making the move over to my current role in Gather & Gather. This was the best move for me. I’ve been able to shape the food programme within our company and design our offering for how I felt workplace catering should be presented. I’m now working with my own group of chefs, all of whom share the same principles around good food and good workplace culture.
What’s the most important ingredient in your success to date?
Perseverance. The willingness to be open to challenge. Always wanting to learn. In everything you do, it’s great to take time to appreciate your success, but you also need to be looking at the next step, what comes next. That’s what motivates me, looking for the next step.
The other key ingredient is the people. You need to rely on the people around you, the ones that ground you. It really makes a difference, who you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with good people and they will help you learn.
Tell us about the team you work with
We’re a very tight-knit team. I have my head chefs and executive chefs on all our sites who run each kitchen as their own. My job is to help advise them and remove any blockages that they might have that stop them doing a fantastic job. Phil Thomas, who’s my senior development chef works very closely with me. He also helps us run our central production kitchen where we cook the meals for our sites which don’t have the necessary facilities. We have different styles in the way we work, he’s a very methodical person compared to me, but our styles really complement each other. I’m also lucky enough to work with some fantastic people on our management team, Nigel Staveley and Pauline Cox. They provide me with huge freedom within our food programme, but also support us to stay on budget and keeping our clients happy. We truly do work with a great team.
“Surround yourself with good people and they will help you learn”
Have you seen a negative side of the industry in your experience?
Not in the kitchens that we run. It’s not tolerated. But it is out there. I think there’s less and less than there used to be, but there’ll always be those workplaces were bravado and ego run the show. I think these types of kitchens are becoming fewer as we put less emphasis on this type of leader.
When I started in the industry, it was a very different landscape. I swore that I’d never allow that type of behaviour in any of the kitchens that I ran. Our kitchens would be run differently. There are a lot of negatives surrounding our industry, but I don’t think you’ll find an industry where there aren’t negatives, it’s just that with cheffing it’s all that’s talked about. There are positives to this career. Lots of positives. You can travel, it’s exciting, you make friends easily and you get to play an influential part in what people eat. There’s instant satisfaction in this job, you have the camaraderie of your team and you get to leave a legacy. How many other careers can say that?
We need to keep working to share those positive stories so that cheffing can be accepted as a good career.
“You don’t always have to have all the answers”
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?
Nurturing Camaraderie & Team Spirit is one of the most important elements in any kitchen. We try to create a kitchen that’s culturally accepting of everyone. We acknowledge and celebrate the successes of everyone in the group, but we also need to look at where we weren’t successful and take away learnings from them.
Listen to your team. Never be afraid to have those difficult conversations, but always know why you’re having them. Build relationships with the members of your team. There’re so many people involved in the success of your kitchen, that you need to be doing your best to have everyone involved, give everyone a voice.
Respect every team member. Be mindful of the language you use and how you communicate with people. We try to encourage openness in all our kitchens. We want everyone to feel as though they can approach any of us and they will be listened to. They are part of the team.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
You don’t always have to have all the answers. Surround yourself with good people.
Modern leadership is very different from what it once was. You need clear communication with your team, you need to make sure the messages you’re sending are easy to understand. You need to have empathy, where are your team at? Where is each person on your team at in terms of their career, this will affect how you manage and lead each person and your overall team.
Have people in charge of your kitchen that you trust. They’ll spot things that you might not always be around to see, so you need to trust that they’ll be there to pick up on and change in the right manner.
There’s no one approach to leading a team. What’s important is that you know your values and you know what type of kitchen you want to create. Then surround yourself with the people that help you achieve that vision.
BEING A CHEF….
What I love most is… That no day is the same, every day is different.
The biggest challenge is…How our industry will change over the next 6 weeks, months and years and how we adapt to that change.
What makes me most proud is…That after all these years people are still asking for my opinion.
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is…work with chefs at lots of different stages in their career and still to this day, feel as though I can pick up the phone to any one of them and have a good honest conversation.
I have learned to…Not take yourself too seriously.
The key skills or traits to have in this job are…Different, depending on the level you’re at. As you move up in your career you need to learn new skills outside of the culinary, such as finance, leadership and people skills. Emotional intelligence is so important given the challenges we face now.
We can create a better workplace by…Signing up to the Chef Network Kitchen Workplace Charter that’s a good start.
My advice to chefs starting out is…Don’t be in a rush. Learn from as many chefs as you can and take your time to learn from each of them.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career…Be open to different styles of cooking and levels of restaurants. Work for the best and try everything.
My greatest mentor has been…There’s far too many to mention! From chefs that I’ve met early on in my career who helped build me up, to those who showed me what a good kitchen looks like, to the managing directors who helped me with the business side of the industry all the way to my friends and colleagues who keep me in check, even to this day.
My biggest inspiration is… People like JP McMahon of Food on the Edge, Massimo Bottura and José Andrés for using their culinary ability and skill to affect change in the world are the chefs of late I admire greatly. I’m also hugely inspired by the chefs in Ireland, those who have been around for a long time and continue to find the motivation to keep going and progressing Irish Food.
My favourite job ever is…The one I’m in right now!
My favourite place to eat is…It really depends on the day and what mood I’m in. I love eating in Chapter One, The Greenhouse, Aniar, but also, I love going into our own restaurants to eat, there are so many places, I really can’t narrow it down.
My favourite thing to eat is…Simple food. It sounds cliché, but I really enjoy good produce that’s treated with respect and cooked simply.
Something I’d still like to learn is…Spanish
How to keep/attract staff? Reputation. Reputation. Reputation.
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