Paul Welburn: if they want to be great, young chefs need to make sacrifices

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

What does it take to be a great chef? Is the current generation's expectation of a work-life balance inhibiting them from becoming the best that they can be?

This was one of the topics raised in the latest Nightcap podcast, hosted by Salt chef Paul Foster and Simon Alexander, joined by the executive chef of one Michelin Star restaurant, The Oxford Kitchen, Paul Welburn. 

The chefs discussed their formative years, agreeing that they wouldn't be where they are today had they not suffered through years of painstaking work, stress and sacrifices. 

Both Pauls agreed that nowadays, aspiring chefs expect to have their cake and eat it. Whether it be the result of TV series and social media glorifying what it means to be a chef, or the inherent impatience of wanting to achieve success without putting in the hard work, Paul Welburn said: "This is the wrong conversation to have. You should be coming in, working hard and proving yourself. We had to prove ourselves. You work from the bottom and improve yourself."

“I don’t think it’s about that now. It’s about how you can talk your way into a place.”

The chef said 20 hour shifts, sleepless nights, collective punishment and even physical violence - not to mention poor eating habits -  were the norm in the kitchen when they started off.

While he conceded that things did need to change and that the desire for a higher quality of life isn't unreasonable, he said that none the country's most acclaimed chefs would have been so successful had they had an easy start in their career. 

“You look at all the chefs who’re in this industry, what I think are the pioneers, the ones who really made Britain great in food and brought on all the future chefs; you’ve got your Raymond Blancs, you’ve got your Roux brothers, Gary, Marco, Gordon, Sat, Daniel Clifford. All these people were the ones that were pushing. And did they have an easy life when they started out? No.”

Reaping the benefits - such as receiving a Michelin star last year - which The Oxford Kitchen chef described as the feeling that all the suffering and sacrifices had been worthwhile - isn't just something that you have to wait years for, either. The chef said that even though when he first started working in London, he was barely earning enough to get by, he wasn't phased. 

"It was probably one of the best years I had in London because it’s not about having the money. It’s not about that. It’s about – you’re part of a team, you leave every weekend thinking: ‘I’m part of something here’ - a Michelin star restaurant, I’m young, I’m in London, I’m pushing, I’m working hard.”

What do you think chefs? Is the old military-style obsolete, or is resilience-building necessary to be successful?

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 12th June 2019

Paul Welburn: if they want to be great, young chefs need to make sacrifices