Sean Wilkinson, Northumbria University

The Staff Canteen
Sean Wilkinson

Sean Wilkinson discusses his role as Development Chef at Northumbria University and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Sean Wilkinson

Place of work: Northumbria University

Role: Executive development Chef

Bio: Sean has been in the industry for over 20 years, working in establishments including Gourmet Spot in Durham, Chapters Hotel and the Frenchgate hotel. He was also the head chef and proprietor of Attitude Restaurant in Middlesbrough as well as having a series on ITV called ‘Chemical Chef’ in 2006. 

Chef Skills

Sean Wilkinson takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been there?

Just under a year.

What exactly does your role include?

I have 16 food outlets ranging from canteen service to street food vans, pop ups, pizza bars, patisseries, etc. I oversee them all, develop the menus, develop new concepts, and instigate all the training. I have about 124 chefs in total.

What made you want to be a development chef?

The creative aspect of it. I’ve been cooking for 25 years and have travelled the world, got the highest accolade you can get as a chef, and this is a whole new challenge. It is in the public sector so the rules are different, the hours are different. I get to spend time with my little girl who is three, while still being extremely creative.

Is it a sector you would advise for chefs entering the industry?

Not for their first steps into it no, it takes a lot of knowledge to be able to develop. It is very fast paced and trends develop very quickly, the background experience is really needed. You are working with chefs with all different skill sets and need to know how to train them.

How long would you expect it to take before someone was ready to be a  development chef?

I would expect them to be a sous chef for a few years at a high level, the only reason being the knowledge and background needed. You need a good sound background of cooking.

How long would someone need to progress to the top level of the industry?

It has taken me 24 years to get where I am now, but different people progress at different levels, what I’ve done with my career is travel as much as I possibly could to get that knowledge and skill set. If you ask me to cook Malaysian can ask me to cook Greek I can, because I am comfortable in those food skills now, so it depends on what you want to get out of it as a chef. But to get to the highest level I think you would definitely need a lot of experience.

What are your ultimate top five tips for someone wanting to start a career in the hospitality sector?

1. You need to be passionate

2. You need a willingness to work incredibly long, unsociable hours

3. Do a lot of homework and research, look at new trends and new food styles that are coming out

4. Listen and take notes, take as much information down as possible

5. You need to want to do it, it is a really tough career and to get where you want to be will take hard work, listening and development.

What are you looking out for in an interview or on a CV if someone was applying to work with you?

Passion, willingness, knowledge and a really good attitude. I’ve stopped looking at qualifications now, over the last year I must have interviewed a hundred chefs and they may be super qualified but they haven’t got the getup and go, or they aren’t willing to learn, or they aren’t flexible. So I look for those traits now before I look at qualifications.

Do you ever take on students for work experience at the university?

Absolutely, we are currently recruiting now for some new concepts over the summer, and I want to grow my own brigade and teach them how we do things from scratch, mentor them and make them into strong chefs. I’m always looking for fresh talent, always. 

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Editor 1st June 2017

Sean Wilkinson, Northumbria University