Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Alan Gibb, Gleneagles Hotel

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2011

Alan Gibb Executive Chef of Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Scotland.

So first and foremost thank you very much for your time, lovely to be here again at the wonderful Gleneagles. Let's start by talking about the role of the executive chef in a hotel. I guess it's dramatically changed over 20 years, although I would say you're probably in quite a fortunate position in as much as you still have a restaurant, although you have Andrew (Fairlie) here but you do still have your own fine dining restaurant. Yes we have several restaurants and I think with here being a resort you have to look at things very differently, we are always trying to give customers different options of where to dine. So we have several choices for people to dine across the resort in the evening - they can dine, as you say, in our fine dining or as we prefer to call it our formal restaurant The Strathearn or the guest may also choose to dine in one of the other outlets. The Strathearn is very much a classic dining experience featuring British and French influences Or Scottish even. Even Scottish yes. Well we never want to kind of go down - what is it you call it? Jocko speak? ((Laughs)) Yeah that's it. With five options, a big team, how much"¦ of your time would you say is administration, managing the business, and how much of your time would you say is hands on, on the business? I would say that I need my working week just to do the paperwork side of it, the administration role, and a lot of that is communication, email, dealing with customers, doing whatever it is I have to do"¦so that means coming in, in the morning, during the day shift covering the business side of it and then in the evenings looking after the customer base really and that's probably the best way to describe things, depending on where the business is, either at the Strathearn, private dining, The clubhouse or over here Deseo today. What would you say are the biggest demands now on the hotel chef? Is it food costs? Is it staffing or is it lots of different things? I think the expectations are certainly from a multi-resort based situation you're a manager first and foremost. If the numbers don't add up you're not going to be there too long. If you don't make the food costs, payroll costs, and make the operating margins then the errors can have a big effect on the bottom line for the whole business, do you know we push to take more in F and B here than in rooms so we have got to make it happen. We are a five red star resort, there are huge expectations from the customers because whether it is Andrew's (Restaurant Andrew Fairlie) with two Michelin stars or any of the other restaurants, customers are paying good money to stay here as a resident here at Gleneagles or Glenmor they equally want the very best experience. They might not expect necessarily a Michelin experience but they're looking for a very good experience each time they dine in any of the restaurants, this of course can put pressures onto the cost as we try to impress guests or give them an enhanced experience. In addition to that there are the internal dealings for future guests requests whether that is for a large group looking for choice menus for their 140 meal or perhaps a request for some lad's birthday party that's coming up and they want that answered quickly because they don't want to let the client down. So that's my job sort of! Absolutely. How many guys do you have in the team across all of the outlets? How many chefs do you manage? At the moment we've got a team of 70 Chefs which is broken down approximately that the Dormy House, soon to be re-named The Clubhouse Bar and Grill when it reopens has a team of 15 or 16 chefs, Deseo, our Mediterranean restaurant, again a team of 16, and the remainder sits within what we call the main kitchen brigade, which incorporates pastry, breakfasts, Strathearn, private dining and the bar. Each area has a head chef and most a sous chef as well, there's obviously a fair level of management structure in place allowing us to operate properly and these guys are all very committed. Let's talk about the annualised hours. I think it's probably something that maybe a lot of people don't know about but I think I'm right in saying that chef de partie and below you guarantee a certain hourage per week is that right? No"¦..per year. Sorry Alan, per year. What do you guarantee your staff per year, do you know? 1801 hours. So you take 1801. And what? Do you divide that by 52? It works out that theoretically if someone works 35 hours a week they wouldn't get any holidays they would be doing 52 weeks at 35 hours a week or if you imagine every hour that they work over 35 becomes basically accrual for more time off. People shouldn't work less than four hours or more than a 12 hours a day. So if we're bringing someone in we need to guarantee four hours work. We're very fortunate that the guys within the kitchen team are extremely understanding if they come in and for whatever reason they are not required they will go or if they are required to stay longer they will. The team work the hours required"¦you know if I need someone to work 60 hours in the week they work 60 hours. That's fine, they write their hours down but in real terms it goes into positive hours. At the end of the year if it's not been managed correctly they'll get a paid there accrued time. If it's been managed correctly to within 50 hours positive or negative, which really is only an hour a week, over the 39 hours a week they would then work less or more hours over the following year. If someone's has excessive over hours they'll get paid out at the end of that year, but it's up to the management to ensure that this is minimal So simplistically then if the business is busy your staff are busier and therefore do longer, so the business is doing better because you're busy. Yes "¦you only have people in the business when they can make money for the business so you don't bring people in 5 days a week if it is not necessary "¦ Does that rely on you though? To make that work does that rely on you having a full brigade? In reality yes"¦. Okay. You need the right level of staff I mean right now we are sitting with a positive hours of about 5,000, but the payroll is better than budget Okay that's across 70 staff? Yes. So you kind of look at it and say, "Well that's where we're at." In real terms, considering that we've just come through the summer season, we're now going into the kind of quiet six weeks or quieter six weeks anyway. So you can alter some of that can you and get those hours back or down? Well what happens is when it is quieter a large part of the team go on holiday, hours gets cut down and then we regroup again for the next phase. The reality is that we had a much busier time through our private dining in the last few months, higher than expected, some of the guys in that area have quite high hours, so they will have to be managed down somehow Why are we not hearing more about this across the industry and why are more hotels not following this lead? I think the reality is that it costs Everyone we talk to in the industry says, "We've got to do less hours, if we want to attract more people in we've got to do less hours." Gleneagles should be championing this, but why are other hotels not saying, "Look what Gleneagles are doing why are we not following that?" I think in fairness, there are a few places now that are beginning to look at it. I certainly know that anybody I ever talk to, if I talk to students or anybody else I'll always be bestowing the virtues of annualised hours "¦and if anybody else comes here for an interview, I'll always talk to them about it because I kind of see it as a real benefit to employees. I think the reality says that maybe it's easier to make it work with 70 people than it is to make it work with a team of say five, you know, but I think long gone are the days that people want to give up their time for nothing. Yes but we shouldn't expect them to give up their time for nothing either should we? Absolutely not, no way, but the perpetual challenge is one of cooking is by it's nature very labour intensive and cooks want to get it right and that takes time Absolutely. "¦So things have to be looked at"¦sometimes you have to, when I say make compromises, you have to do things differently, outsource certain things to take the time pressure off so again you've got people in place working at the times required to deliver to the customer. I think the good benchmark of something that is outsourced is either whether it can save you time and not effect the final dish or is of a better quality than you potentially can produce yourself consistently. It has to be asked are you fooling yourself to make everything in house - just to say you do - that's probably the biggest difference between a large hotel or group chef who's going to be looking at it matter of factly and from a business standpoint and someone working in a small country house or restaurant, because not everyone does everything brilliantly and there's always a general chef mentality which is if I make it myself it's going to be better than anybody else can make it. There are plenty of experts in the field of butchery, fishmongery, fruits, vegetables and dairy - we just need to tap into their knowledge and import their skills into our purchasing Alan,  I see what your driving at.  I think it's more and more now but how do you offset outsourcing against deskilling the industry claims? I think we evolve new skills also"¦ Or do you just have to accept that maybe we are losing the skills anyway it's like natural evolution we don't ride the penny farthing any more. Yeah I would agree "¦ but we work on the basis of we have strong links with our suppliers and we can send our guys down to do fishmongery or butchery and they're going to learn it better from a fishmonger than they are from a chef. Equally we have a situation where we wish something done to our spec we have to go and work with the fishmonger and we'll say, "That's how we want you to cut the piece of salmon for us or the wild sea bass " or whatever it is and then we can then negotiate the price and the quality that we require within the operation and an agreed price per portion. So we work with the suppliers and then in turn we'll get a situation where we get supplier visits for the guys, we'll give the guys in the kitchen time out to work at the supplier and learn the skills from the experts. Equally here we're very quite fortunate, we're in a position that if we wish to take whole fish into Deseo, we can put it in the display area as part of visual guest experience, and then at the end of that shift we can then break it down, and we turn that into a training session. So there isn't a loss of skills here in my view, but I fully understand that people might feel that in some ways. I guess also what it does as well it kind of takes away some of the mundane roles doesn't it? I mean there's no point in paying a chef de partie 18K a yeah or whatever to stand there and turn carrots when you can buy them in far more cost effectively and realistically surely that chef de partie is better off cooking that piece of fish to perfection than he is turning a carrot to go with it? Well that's precisely the argument really it's about saying if you're going to pay someone a good rate, the best rate of pay that you can, to deliver to meet the expectations of the guest, then you want them to deliver on the bits that the customer actually cares about as opposed to the mundane"¦which is"¦ From a consumer I don't care if you've turned my carrot or not I just want it cooked right. Yes exactly. So we get the people to concentrate on the cooking not necessarily on the preparation, without doubt there's a balance and I think we have to get it right to keep both the staff and the profitability for the business, we're opening The Clubhouse and we've got to assess it all again, in any business when you reshape or re-modernise a restaurant what happens is that the back of house space gets smaller and the front of house space gets bigger because that's where you're going to make your money. You don't make money from having a big back of house but with development of equipment, and kitchen design"¦there's equipment out there now which we virtually use no pans in service, we're cooking onto planchas which double up as our solid top through the day for preparation The water bath has been quite a revolution for you guys hasn't it? It has worked very well for us within the Strathearn restaurant it has given us a consistency of product on service which is really what we need you know, if you're going to do in excess of 300 covers within a restaurant in an hour of an evening, we need to remove the element of risk wherever possible and deliver to the guests expectations So in your role then are you tasked with saving efficiencies, be it labour, be it energy, is that part of your role? Yeah, yeah absolutely it's part of the role as I said there's a budget that's set for each area which feeds into the overall kitchen budget, if one of the kitchens is not delivering on energy costs that brings down the overall budget, so it has to be controlled as a business we are green we are pushing hard "¦ Yeah you're quite green!!!! "¦to be better, better at waste management and to look at energy efficiencies wherever possible, such as induction and ask is it the right way forward for our business? I'm kind of glad we didn't go with induction personally, purely because as much as it's an instant heat, our current range gives us actually a lot more flexibility and that was our main reason for choosing it. We have gone for more electric which theoretically is more expensive but because of the way our range is set up the things are not switched on until half an hour before service or parts of it are not switched on when it is quiet So gone are the days when you came in at seven o'clock in the morning and turned the stoves on"¦ Exactly. "¦and then used them at seven o'clock at night? Exactly so the mentality has changed. The guys clean their own stove at the end of their shift so you can guarantee they're not going to switch it on until or if they need to"¦ Absolutely"¦. So that in itself has saved money and energy. We have things like a de-waterer for the food waste, the idea behind that is that when we looked at the tonnage of waste that was going to landfill, the biggest majority of it was actually in one way or other was food waste. So over-production on buffets or whatever"¦. Yeah or lack of consumption, I would look at it as lack of consumption, it's kind of a balance for example, we can do 400 breakfasts, we need to have product out there and we need to have a product there until the last customer leaves and so from that perspective there's always a level of waste. But it's managing that I guess. It's managing to the minimum but there is also what people will take from a buffet they will always take more than they need because it's there and they leave it, the idea of placing these de-waterers throughout all of the restaurants we were able to reduce food waste by around 80%"¦you put the food in and it takes all the moisture out and then it puts it out like a, I don't know like a risotto almost. Okay and then what you sell it as feed or"¦ Well we get somebody who comes and picks it up. That's at this stage"¦ So this is something you're looking at? No, no we've got them here. Oh you've got them? We've got them, but then the next stage is that we are looking at another system which will be able to turn this food waste product plus some other waste products from around the business and then hopefully be able to convert this into energy to run the activity school, which I would say is pretty green .So there's a lot of work goes into that. We have a waste group and it can be quite challenging to get people to buy into the recycling at work, which is frustrating as people do it at home, but it is important for the business Last but by no means least I can't come to Gleneagles and not ask you about the Ryder Cup so how as executive chef where is your role within the 2014 Ryder Cup? I think the Ryder Cup in itself is going to be huge for Scotland, it's hosted and played here but the whole of Scotland will benefit from The Ryder Cup"¦I was in Louisville (Kentucky) two years ago"¦ Can I just say Mr Gibb that it's an outrageously expensive trip to go and learn Colonel Sanders 11 secret herbs and spices by the way. Yeah, yeah ((laughs)) it was a junket yeah. It was all right over there but jokes apart "¦I helped with the gala dinner for1200 people and in reality we don't have facilities here at the resort for that so"¦ Sure. "¦I would presume that whatever happens it's going to be in Glasgow or Edinburgh so I think it's for the greater Scottish economy it's going to be massive and because of the huge media interest and great for tourism too. How many people are you expecting to feed on a daily basis? Well in reality I think the numbers won't be huge for us because I would see that the outside or the "˜on course' catering will not be done by the hotel. I believe that is correct, as we are not experts in that field. So I would presume that we will have one corporate area which we look after within the course and we'll be looking after the players and then the rest of it will be residential business which I think will be sponsorship business or perhaps players too. That's my understanding of how things are going to work. It's still a long way away and we haven't really discussed the operational side of it, what we have looked at is that it's a bigger thing than Gleneagles. I think it's not going to do any of us any harm and it will certainly not do Scotland any harm Alan, listen, thank you for your time it's been wonderful to talk to you. I wish you every success for the future of your role and Gleneagles and thank you very much. Right well thank you Mark. It was a pleasure.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2011

Spotlight on Hotel Chefs - Alan Gibb, Gleneagles Hotel