'There's a fear within young chefs that they can't really voice what happens next, what's the end goal'

The Staff Canteen

Kicking off the latest series of the Grilled podcast, Ynyshir chef patron Gareth Ward joined TSC editor Cara Houchen and co-host, chef and owner of The Man Behind the Curtain, Michael O'Hare, to talk about skiing trips, sore privates and the Mazda MX-5 Michael once bought to match his mum's. 

In amid the silliness, the chefs found time to touch on more serious topics, namely of the need for better, more open communication between employers and their teams.

Michael remembered visiting Ynyshir and getting a true sense of family ties in the crew. 

"You're their Peter Pan, aren't you," he said to Gareth. "They're like the Lost Boys."

"I mean that as the biggest compliment ever," he hastened to add, "because it's such a difficult thing to find people that you can get on with, that you can find common ground with and operate on the same frequency as."

More exceptional still, he added, is "to have that over a group who seem to genuinely love and care for each other." 

How does one achieve such good cohesion, you might ask?

For Gareth, employing people for their skills alone has always been out of the question. 

"Our selection process," he explained, is "you come and work here for a week, and I don't care what you've done, where you've worked, how good a chef you are. If you've got three Michelin stars, I don't care." 

"I want people around me that I trust with Carl or Amelia, who's going to look after my friends when you come over like I would." 

"That's the selection process. I can teach you how to cook our food, I don't care what you already know.

"First and foremost, it's, 'are you going to fit in? Are you an arsehole? Yes? Okay, well go and find a job somewhere else.'" 

"I don't give a f**k who you are, you take your attitude off and you leave it at the front door and when you go home at night you pick it back up and take it home. You can be whoever you want to be there, but you're not that here." 

"My boys love being here so they give 100 percent everytime, because they want to. Not because they're scared and being made to, because they want to."

Communication is key

Both Michael and Gareth make it a priority to create an environment in which people feel like they can be open and honest about their thoughts and intentions.

Historically, the industry - which, in 2019, had a 30% percent turnover rate, twice the UK average across all sectors - has been one for hostile resignations, and they want to steer clear of that.

Rather than for chefs to pretend that they want to stay in any job forever, it is much more desirable that they make clear where they want to go next and what their bigger picture is. 

Michael said: "Unless they have exactly the same name as me, there's no sense in you being there forever. You've got to have a plan. 

"I'm not really going to change style, I'm not really going to change the menu too much - if you stay here six years, you've probably wasted four. 

He added: "There should be a conversation for everyone's happiness in realising what they want to do. Each one of my boys and girls must have a plan or an idea of where they want to be in five to ten years' time, be that owning a bakery, owning a wine bar, owning a coffee shop, owning a fine dining restaurant, whatever it is."

"I feel like I've genuinely missed out on those conversations, and it's such an interesting conversation to have."

Not only does the discussion mean that head chefs and managers are able to help young chefs secure the positions they want, he continued, "it also means that when that day comes, you can have a really open conversation about why you're leaving." Michael said. 

Remembering his own experiences of departures fuelled by spite and anger, Michael believes that it doesn't have to be that way. 

"At what stage are we at that we're spending so much time with each other - and a lot of talk is happening about mental health - but that seems to only be a conversation when it's at the absolute end degree?" 

"What doesn't happen is an open conversation about how you feel every single day," he added.

"There's a phobia or a fear that I feel I haven't generated that exists in young chefs and people within the industry that they can't really voice what happens next and what's the end goal.

Gareth concurred, and said: "I'll say to them, tell me where you want to work, and they say 'Oh I want to go to Midsummer House chef,' and I'm like, 'okay, I'll call Daniel.'"

"I'm not being arrogant or anything, but I can help you get that job."

Fundamental to this is that there is no wrong route, but that by being open about it, the likelihood of success is much higher. 

"Not everyone has to be Top Chef; you can open a food truck or whatever you want," Michael said.

"I think it would be a real nice positive change within the industry if everyone could have a conversation often about where they'd like to be and what they'd like to do." 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2021

'There's a fear within young chefs that they can't really voice what happens next, what's the end goal'