10 Minutes With: Matt Hay, Chef Director, BaxterStorey

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th July 2018

Matt Hay is chef director at BaxterStorey who provides bespoke hospitality service, where he is responsible for spearheading food innovation and training as well as focusing on sustainability.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Matt about why he has chosen this career path, keeping his finger on the pulse of culinary innovation, the importance on entrepreneurship and why he is not looking to return to a traditional restaurant role.

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One of Matt's dishes

Innovation in the kitchen

Joining BaxterStorey as a head chef where he was looking after fine dining and hospitality events. Matt’s role has gradually evolved into his current role of chef director five years ago where he directs food innovation. He says one of his priorities is 'keeping my finger on the pulse of the market, everything changes so quickly it’s difficult to keep up with it'.

He reveals that year on year plans are put in place to be at the forefront of innovation and trends. He says: “My team will sit down and figure out what the industry needs, what the business needs and what’s going on in the high-street now.”

The importance of sustainability

Sustainability is key and is a core value of both the company and Matt’s ethos. He reveals: “I think at the very heart of our business, we are very proud of our social responsibility. What I mean by that is that 95% of our produce is from the UK and it’s fresh. We are really focused on our clients -getting the best regionally for them as well as looking at sustainability and supporting local businesses.”

Entrepreneurship 

Another core value is entrepreneurship, both Matt and BaxterStorey pride themselves on instilling this value in every chef that joins the organisation. Matt explains: “One of the biggest things is letting the chefs be entrepreneurial - they can choose which baker that they buy their bread from. What we must do behind the scenes is make that work - to make sure the supply chain is rigid, safe for our clients and our people, so they have freedom throughout the menu., We’re not like the high-street where the menu stays the same for six months. It changes every single day.”

Employees like Matt are encouraged and trusted to ‘run’ their part of the business as if it was their own.

Training is key

A large part of Matt’s day-to-day role is to make sure people are in a ‘good place’. He explains that 'when you’re busy it’s easy to not communicate to people', so he prioritises time to visit locations and be amongst the teams so they see him as a supporting figure if they need it. He says part of this is also to 'ensure people are emulating the core principles of this business - food, people and service'.

Matt believes that training is at the very heart of the business. He says: “We always encourage our people to push the boundaries, to let them be entrepreneurial with a little bit of focus, whether through mentoring or our training academies. It’s a key way we attract new talent.”

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Matt's role is a varied one

Career progression

Training and paving a strong career path is a big part of life at BaxterStorey. Matt reveals that there have been several people who have come in at kitchen porter level and have been trained up to chef de partie and beyond.

Matt reveals: “They are encouraged to start migrating from washing pots and pans to going into food preparation and to become commis chefs. A few years later they are working as a chef de partie and so on. We once had a kitchen porter that went all the way up to a sous chef in about five years.”

Something for everyone

He explains that a career in a company like BaxterStorey is more sustainable and there is ‘something for everybody’ and for people not to necessarily dismiss a career in contract catering. Matt reveals: “We have a few guys who started in contact catering who have gone out and worked in restaurants... and when they then come back to us it’s because they were doing 100 hours a week. Chefs can still cook amazing fresh food, if they are a fine dining chef - they can do some Michelin star style operations, but not doing crazy hours."

Why should a chef work in contract catering?

Why should a chef work in contract catering? Matt is unequivocal in his response: “What we do is to encourage people - we want to be the preferred employer to attract people to a great business.”

He continues: “The company hands on, so when the chairman or CEO walk in, they will walk into the kitchen and say hello to everyone from the kitchen porter all the way up to the head chef. That’s quite powerful. So, new people that come in, they’re seeing that each member of staff is in a personalised relationship, that’s at the heart of our business. It’s very encouraging.”

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Chef Director Matt Hay

What is it like for people joining BaxterStorey from high street brand catering? Matt explains: “A few guys came over from Jamie’s and have been overwhelmed with how they’ve been able to apply for our training programme The Chef Academy, which is an amazing opportunity.”

Training opportunities

Progressing chefs is key. Matt explains that he has had lots of chefs come through the ranks of the kitchen and have gone on incredible things. One has just left and is now running the kitchen at Gleneagles and they have also had a Roux Scholar come out of the BaxterStorey kitchens.

Even for an experienced chef like Matt, receiving the opportunity to train has had a strong influence on his career. At the age of 34, BaxterStorey put him through university where he received a degree in culinary arts which he considers to be a 'highlight of my life'. Particularly as he got to study underneath renowned professor David Foskett, who is a member of the Academy of Culinary Arts and the Craft Guild of Chefs.

Work Life balance

Attaining a strong work-life balance is key. Matt says that back in his days of working in restaurant and hotel kitchens in the 90s, that the ‘kitchens were brutal’. He says: “In those days, people had to deliver at an extremely high level over a long period of time. It was like sprinting a marathon”. However, one of the key takeaways from his time working in restaurants was the importance of looking after people. Matt believes that retaining your staff will keep costs down. He continues that he believes that ‘more and more people are aware that they have got options in what do’ and a key component of this it is encouraging people to talk more positively as opposed to negatively.

Would Matt go back into restaurants? Probably not. He says: “I wouldn’t necessarily go back to be a chef, I’ve kind of done that and I’m looking at where I can work and consult at a higher level. I think that the way that my consultation works is that actually, you add value at a higher level”. He also praises the more positive work-life balance that he has now. Not having to work a weekend as well as being able to utilise his experience and training staff. Before he went into contract catering, he had been working seven days a week and was ‘stressed out’, so the opportunity was not one to be missed.

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Matt in action

A clear career path

Despite his busy role, he still gets to cook (as part of the training programme) and has recently been training commis on the importance of sustainable fish as well as basic skills like how to fillet a fish.

He affirms: “Mentoring and coaching people is a huge part of the BaxterStorey DNA. We want to make sure that they have a very clear pathway of where they should be going to. I’m encouraging a very young team, when we started in Ireland 10 years ago, this is what we were doing putting in a clear infrastructure, going back to basics and actually recognising that you still have to deal with unions and high taxes and things on a welfare part and deliver great food again.”

Joining BaxterStorey

What can chefs expect when they join BaxterStorey? They can expect to have a ‘really supportive career path’, where chefs can cook in a variety of businesses.

He explains: “It’s really diverse, we look after some prestigious car brands as well, everything from factories and football clubs to high-end companies. There are massive opportunities for young people coming through the business. I think over the next five years, part of my role will be encouraging people to join through demos, going to schools - proving that there is a great industry out there in hospitality.”

By Emma Harrison

@canteenemma

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th July 2018

10 Minutes With: Matt Hay, Chef Director, BaxterStorey