‘You can teach someone to chop an apple or sharpen a knife, but you can’t teach someone to be a nice person’

The Staff Canteen

Sally abé and Anna Haugh discuss what a 'modern boss' looks like in the hospitality industry

On this week’s episode of Grilled by The Staff Canteen, Editor Cara Houchen was joined by new co-host Sally Abé, chef at The Pem and guest Anna Haugh, chef-owner of Myrtle, London.

'I don’t want to create ‘mini-mes’'

As a restaurant leader, the chefs argued, you shouldn’t be looking for people who are similar to you, as different people within a team willl encourage creativity and a better work environment.

Anna said: “The idea that you’re always looking for people to be similar to you is really a flaw in our industry. You have to look for people who are going to bring something interesting to your kitchen.”

“They can be slightly different to you, then that way you have more interesting discussions. So that means you need men and you need women. We need different people in the kitchen, different nationalities and different age groups. All of those things added together have a better kind of creative process.”

For a restaurant to function at the highest level, she said, you need people to feel comfortable being themselves and putting forward their own ideas, as that way you bring about growth and development.

“I want people to be who they are, I don’t want to create ‘mini-mes’. I used to think that’s what I would want, but I like the idea of people having an environment where they can become who they should become.”

“I hire them because I think I see something in them; so that if they work really hard and if they follow the guidelines that I give them, then I will help them to be better than me, that’s the whole point. I train them so one day they can overtake me.”

Both agreed on the importance of developing a community within the restaurant, and that despite difference in backgrounds and ideas, everyone needs to enjoy working together. And sometimes, it just takes one person to set the whole dynamic off balance.

Sally said: “You can teach someone to chop an apple or sharpen a knife, but you can’t teach someone to be a nice person.”

Families and Hospitality

In the interest of being contented and living life to the full, Anna encourages her team to become parents - and to be active parents at that. Since becoming a mother herself, as a chef owner, she sets the rules, and shows that it is possible.

She lives close to the restaurant and has made the neccessary arrangements to ensure that she can continue to work without missing out on being a mother. 

“I’m the boss, so I get to call the shots, no one’s going to give out to me," she laughed.

"If I'm doing a meeting or I'm doing anything that's during the day that I can take him to and it doesn't disrupt what I'm doing, I try to do it because it's really hard to juggle everything. If I have a meeting I can have him on my lap, within reason."

However, this is not the experience for many others in the industry, as old practices continue to dominate. She said: “I think that’s what makes it quite hard for other women. They’re not the boss so they don’t have the same support.”

“But I’ve told any of the girls that work in my restaurant that if they ever did want to have children, that I would definitely be a very flexible boss when it comes to hours and different things you need to take into consideration.”

Anna also brought up the point that hospitality is built for families, just as guests, saying: “We have an industry that is totally built for people with children in that you need chefs to cook all day long – it’s not just first thing in the morning and last thing at night – and, even if someone comes in and does quality work for four or five hours for certain reasons, I’d pay for that.”

“So, the old fashioned idea that it wouldn’t suit women, it’s just wrong. You just need to be able to adjust to your staff.”

Sally took her point a bit further saying, “We just need to scribble out everything that’s been done before and start with a blank piece of paper and say, ‘what’s the best way to do this?’”

Ultimately, she said: “We have to find a way to do it where everyone can be accommodated, otherwise it’s not very fair is it.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st June 2022

‘You can teach someone to chop an apple or sharpen a knife, but you can’t teach someone to be a nice person’