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 Robert Bullock, Chef Owner of Le Patissier in Co. Dublin.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?
I grew up in Buckinghamshire in South East England. My mum was a florist and a great home baker and cook. I was always at her side waiting to lick the spoon or sample the pastry, so I guess my passion started there.
My brother and I both studied General Catering – he intending to be a chef and me intending to enter hotel management. In the end, it was the other way around. He still works in the hotel industry to this day.
I have always loved food! When we worked our placements in the college restaurant, we were due to do a week on, week off in the kitchen / front of house. I always swapped by shifts to make sure I was in the kitchen on desserts each week.
WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
When I left catering college, I took a role with Sandra Taylor at 90 Park Lane in Grosvenor House. Sandra became a very influential mentor who instilled a determination in me as a 19 year old that has stood to me ever since. I learned a huge amount, not least that hard work is what pays off when honing pastry skills.
Following my time with Sandra, I worked with Philippe Dade at Boulangerie Dade for 2 years. The business was a start-up when I joined and Philippe was a huge inspiration to me in terms of entrepreneurial drive combined with finely tuned pastry skills and techniques.
After that, I took on a business studies course by night and worked in in-flight catering with LSG Sky Chefs, where I progressed from Head Pastry Chef to Operations Director. In 2002, I was contracted to Aer Lingus to head up their catering department. In the years that followed, I became head of Cargo and then took on full responsibility for Dublin Airport.
After a short stint with a freight forwarding company in 2013, it was time for a rethink. A chance meeting with the owner of Brasco’s Restaurant in Skerries, led to the development of Le Patissier which now supplies freshly made pastries to Dunnes Stores and a broad range of hotels, restaurants, cafes and corporate venues.
"FIND A NICHE, FILL IT AND KEEP GOING!"
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT IN YOUR SUCCESS TO DATE?
Entrepreneurial spirit combined with hard work and determination. I credit Sandra Taylor and Philippe Dade for this. They taught me how to find a niche, fill it and keep going! (Irish Butter).
The other ingredient that is very important to me is ‘people and relationships’. I have worked in many arenas of this industry and have nurtured relationships with the people I have worked with and my customers throughout.
TELL US ABOUT THE TEAM YOU WORK WITH
I work with a team of 15, all from varied backgrounds, different ages, but all passionate about what they do. They all have different service lengths. I wouldn’t ask anyone to carry out a task that I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself, I believe you need to lead by example.
We don’t have a high turnover of staff, which is something I’m very proud of, it means we’re doing something right!
The team I have take pride in the output; they are eager to learn and develop their skills and they contribute to a positive working environment.
We try to build a positive environment for them and keep them motivated by rotating roles, emphasising their training and development, providing constructive feedback, supporting them when they need help, recognising that mistakes or asking for help is not a weakness, it’s an opportunity to help improve a chef and empowering them to make their own decisions.
"MISTAKES OR ASKING FOR HELP IS NOT A WEAKNESS, IT'S AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP IMPROVE A CHEF"
HAVE YOU SEEN A NEGATIVE SIDE OF THE INDUSTRY IN YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Yes, but all industries have a negative side. Not everyone is a people manager. To get the best from your team, you need to lead, motivate, challenge and support but also create a framework of structure and quality. Finding the right balance can be challenging for some.
The Chef Network Kitchen Charter AIMS TO CREATE A POSITIVE AND NURTURING WORK ENVIROMENT 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?
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT BEING A LEADER IN THE KITCHEN?
I believe all the points are important. To get the best from your team, you need a positive working environment. Everyone on your team needs to be motivated and challenged but also respected and supported.
Everyone works really hard and puts in the hours when they’re required. But we also ensure everyone has their days off, their annual leave and we support those that may need help when personal issues arise.
Training and development also help to motivate the team. We ensure that as courses become available, different team members get to avail of them. I had planned on sending all of the team at different stages to courses in the UK this year, but COVID prevented this from happening.
Create and maintain a positive working environment so that the team enjoy coming to work every day. Take pride in what they produce. I would never ask any of the team to do something that I would not be prepared to do myself.
BEING A CHEF….
"IF I WASN'T A CHEF, I WOULD BE AN ARTIST"
What I love most is… Being creative. If I wasn’t a chef, I would be an artist. I thrive on working with flavour, colour and texture. Being able to share this creativity is very important to me. I try to make time regularly to go out on deliveries to meet our customers face to face. It is these people that make our work worthwhile.
The biggest challenge is… Not enough hours in the day...and making money!
What makes me most proud is… Starting a business in a recession and keeping it going through COVID by flipping to retail overnight!
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is… Start my own business
I have learned that… You need a good team around you to grow the business
The key skills or traits to have in this job are… Take risks – when coming to running your own business. Have drive and determination.
Work Hard – don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do any job that’s needed in your business, from driving the van to accounts, sales, account management and being a chef.
Develop your business acumen – you can be the best chef in the world, produce the most amazing products, but if you cannot run a business, you’ll fail fast. Sometimes you have to make decisions that you don’t like, but it’s what’s best for the business.
We can create a better workplace by… Developing leaders in our kitchens, not managers or dictators. Leaders who motivate, challenge, educate, empower, inspire, and support their teams. Have an open environment.
My advice to chefs starting out is… Get work experience, ensure this is the right role for you. It’s long and sometimes unsociable hours, ensure you have a passion for being a chef. Then get the right training and listen.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career is… Training and experience! Don’t rush, you won’t be a head chef in a year.
My advice to any chef opening their own place/setting up a business is… Just because you have a good idea, doesn’t mean it will make money! Running a business is so much more than having a good product. If you don’t have the skillset, find somebody who does that you can work with. Or get the business training. Find a mentor that will steer you in the right direction and give you honest feedback.
My greatest mentor has been… Philippe Dade
My favourite job ever…My current role
My favourite place to eat... Anywhere in Italy or France!
My favourite dish on our menu… Award winning (GOLD) Single Origin Choc Tart (Mexique)
How to keep or attract staff… Build a brand that people want to associate themselves with, create a positive working environment, ensure a good work-life balance, develop your team and rotate the roles.
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