Firstly let’s start by saying that there are many types of chef in the world, those who work in restaurants, bars and pubs, those whose choose to cater privately for the rich and famous, chefs who cook en mass for university’s and schools etc., and so the list goes on. I have tried my hand (at some point) in all of these areas over the years. None deserve any less credit, or more for that matter than the next.
I have settled down in hotels, personally I find the day to day business alters so frequently and rapidly that you don’t have time to get bored or into too much of a routine. Due to changing business requirements and seasons, everyday seems to hold new and interesting challenges that self-motivate and reward accordingly, add to that the food and you have a recipe for imagination and rapid development.
I now work at the prestigious Highcliff Marriott in Bournemouth, which over the last five years has won some great accolades, but the last year and a half have seen a dramatic incline in our trophy cabinet being filled, With the team winning awards ranging from sustainable awards from “Fish to Fork” through to Best Restaurant in Dorset at the Taste of Dorset Awards. All the while we have improved upon our Two Rosettes, looking always to step up to the next level.
In our kitchen, the team prepare fresh dishes every day, cooking for our two rosette Grill restaurant, a busy lounge bar and a 24hour room service menu, alongside a multi-million pound Conferencing and banqueting facility. The types of food produced vary from a simple sandwich lunch through to a fine dining gala. The busy grill caters for our residents but also for a huge number of our local guests, who can travel some extraordinary distances to dine with us.
Hotel restaurants tend to be overlooked when dining out by the public, there is a stigma attached that hotels are for guests only. Those days are starting to change and over the last twenty years or so a new trend of amazingly talented chefs have turned their hands to encouraging the general public to step inside the grand and beautiful hotels that scatter our green and pleasant land, to sample the best in modern and classic British cuisine.
My days have some basic structure to them and I will try to give you a little insight into how a typical Sous Chefs day might unfold in a four star hotel.
I rise and prepare for the cycle ride into town, about nine miles, its sunny and slightly crisp outside, perfect way to start the day.
Chefs start to arrive in the kitchen, the breakfast chefs will have been hard at it from around 4.30am cooking fresh pastries and the like for our early risers. The smell of fresh bacon and bread is drifting out the door as I arrive, my favourite morning smells!
A morning coffee or two whilst reviewing the day B.E.Os (Banqueting Event Orders) and bookings.
Checking the orders is one of the most important parts of my day, making sure only the best of produce is being allowed into the kitchen, returning items that might be unsatisfactory and speaking with the suppliers regularly to ensure fresh and quality items are tendered for the next day. Fresh Lyme Bay Lobsters have arrived, a variety of deep blue and red speckled shells, large juicy pinchers and long glaring feelers poke out from under the wet seaweed they have been placed in for transport.
This is the produce chefs live for, fresh and straight from the sea to our back door. Perfect. Cockles, clams and diver caught scallops also follow this through the door and my imagination starts to take hold as to what amazing constructions we can make with these items. At this point I also hand out the daily jobs for my Kitchen steward, items that need to be attended to and cleaning schedules for our team of hard working porters. He will hand out the resulting list amongst them and check that the jobs are carried out professionally and in a timely fashion.
Morning meeting with the executive chef. After the initial planning of the day is over its time to chat to the boss, a couple of strong espresso’s and we go to work on making a plan for the section chefs and discussing any issues brought up from the previous days service. This is also a chance to make any amendments to our departmental schedule, iron out new dish designs and make sure we have covered all of our ordering.
Morning Meeting. This is the chance for all department heads or assistants to discuss the general business of the day with the general manger and operations manager, to receive any specialist instructions or requests and to hand out praise for jobs well done on the previous service.
Back into the kitchen. Now it’s time to brief the team on any news from the morning meeting and to ensure everyone has the equipment and tools for the day’s tasks. Following this there will be some paperwork to do, filing and doing double checks on health and safety, food and hygiene policy and any training that needs to be followed up.
Time to make sure that lunches are on track, the bar will start to fill up and the team can need some support in getting ready for any banquets we may have, it will be busy and all hands on deck until service is over.
Service is almost over. Time for another coffee, and maybe a sandwich. The team regroups and discusses what’s left to be done for the dinner services around the hotel. I take a trip across the courtyard to our banqueting kitchen to check that the sous chef is ok for his evening events; discuss service with the conference and banqueting manager.
Back to the main kitchen. I’ve spotted a commis chef is not making a puree correctly or has had trouble in preparing an unusual vegetable, such as a Romanesque Cauliflower. A spiral shaped floret can throw off an inexperienced young chef in the basic preparation of the florets. I spend some time showing them how to do this correctly and then watch as they attempt it again, great he has it right the second time around and is making great progress on the menu.
Tonight’s specials and new menu dishes are starting to take shape and I may plate one or two to get a feel for it, or revisit a plate that I wasn’t quite happy with before, we are ever evolving menus and sometimes they can change during a season as a new product is available and suited to the specific plate, but this must be carefully considered and can’t be rushed.
An afternoon meeting with the organisers of the evening function to help make sure their event runs smoothly, we sit down for yet another coffee and go through the service from start to finish, learn about any last minute dietary requirements and ensure nothing is missed. The Executive Chef calls me over, he is not happy with a new starter we have been working on and wishes to change direction, and we quickly go over the new specification and make the necessary changes for the evening.
Time to get back to the main kitchen, checking as I go that the entire Mise-en-place for the sections is set up. All the garnishes are checked for freshness and correct preparation; the kitchen has started filling with vivid colours and smells from pans of sauces and the pastry section has a range of delightful mouthfuls on offer, my favourite part to check!
New menu development will normally happen now, the Executive Chef (Matthew Budden) and I will cook and present a meal to be tasted and compared, thought about and brainstormed over, additions will be made and the dish will be produced the following day for the customers. A dish of Gressingham duck breast with Swede and parmesan Puree, steeped golden raisins and winter chard are being plated on the pass for the waiters to test.
It’s finished with a simple bone marrow jus and red vein sorrel leaves, shaved Parmesan and fresh herbs. The creamy flavours from the swede combined with the sharp raisin and salty parmesan, the succulent and livery tasting duck go together perfectly and a small explosion of flavour is enough to make the team smile.
As the chefs start to pick up speed and get ready for the busy night ahead its back over to the Banquet kitchen to ensure all is going well for tonight’s banquet. The sauce needs more red wine, the potatoes could possibly take a little more pepper but apart from that everything is perfect.
Last chance for the chefs to have a quick sit down, a cup of tea or coffee and a bite to eat, it will be all guns blazing for the next few hours.
Service starts. I will walk along the pass and check dishes as they come up to be sent, for freshness quality and presentation, taste and specification, everything must be right. Steamed clams and mussels are on the stove tops, a pan of seared turbot, a chargrill flames with the hiss and sizzle of Dorset Rib eye of beef still on the bone. These flood the pass and restaurant with mouth-watering, delectable aroma.
The banquet is being sent from the second kitchen; I take a walk over to ensure all is well, and help out saucing plates or adding the finishing touches to the dishes as they leave the pass. Everything is going out on time, I’m happy to leave the sous chef with the dessert course.
Back to the main kitchen now, I have spotted a few inconsistencies on the bar service and correct the mistakes showing the Chef de Partie how to ensure the dish is up to our standards in the future. The salad was simply dressed far too early and has started to wilt and the glaze of soy sauce on the salmon fillet is not quite reduced to the silky smooth finish I expect. It is these important details that make my job so important, to ensure the guests dining experience we must be meticulous in our execution.
Service is slowing down the final few tables are in the restaurant and are ordering. The chefs need to remain focused until the end. They have had a busy night and the food is flowing, I speak with a few guests as they finish their dining experience and ask for feedback for the team. They are happy enough to share their ideas and I’m happy to take it on board. Customer feedback can make the difference when it comes to future menus. A plate that doesn’t live up to expectation cannot be used again; it must either be developed further or forgotten and removed.
Dinner service is almost over, the front sections of Larder and Sauce have closed down and begun the cleaning process, scrubbing every piece of equipment in the kitchen, checking food for the next day, compiling orders and looking in advance at the next days business.
11.00pm Pastry service is now completed, the pastry chef calls upon the other chefs to help him in the close down and I phone the fish and meat orders through for the following day.
The kitchen is closed, the chefs ensure that the night team have everything they will require for the night time in room menu and get changed, the office is tidied and we lock up as we go.
12.00pm The night porter team enters and starts to deep clean the kitchen, floors, walls etc.
This is a basic insight into the day in a Hotel Kitchen. Hotels kitchens are busy and constantly on the go. A function or event can be picked up at the last minute, having been let down by a previous venue, the airport could close due to bad weather and the passengers of long delayed flights bussed into the hotel for a night’s sleep with empty stomachs and tired eyes.
A seemingly simple menu can become very difficult when the butcher is not able to source our veal cheeks at the very last moment, or the fish mongers, so often held back by our stormy seas are unable to dive for scallops over the busy weekend period.
It takes a team of highly dedicated men and women who are passionate about what they do to produce some of the best cuisine in the country. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Next time you’re looking to dine out, don’t discount a hotel restaurant, you don’t know what you will be missing.
Are you a chef? How does your day compare?