Mark Poynton, chef patron, Alimentum

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2016

Mark Poynton discusses his role as chef patron at Restaurant Alimentum and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Mark Poynton

Mark Poynton

Place of Work: Restaurant Alimentum

Role: Chef/Patron

Twitter: @markjpoynton

Bio: Mark Poynton is the Chef patron of Michelin-starred restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge. Mark started his career at the age of 15 at the Queen Hotel in Chester, before moving on to work at Juniper in Altrincham. After seven years with Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House in Cambridge, Mark became head Chef at Restaurant Alimentum and took over the Michelin starred restaurant in early 2010.

Chef Skills

Mark Poynton 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 worked there? 

6 years 5 months.

How did you rise to the top of the field?

I was always very determined to better myself every day. I always wanted to know what other people knew, and how they knew more than me. Even so, I think I am far from being at the top of the culinary tree and am still learning every day

What is it about your restaurant that sets it apart from other restaurants?

Salad of chicken wings and smoked eel - Photography by Rob Whitrow

At Alimentum we try to serve the best seasonal food we can. Everybody is doing the same now: we are using fewer gadgets all the time and getting back to simple food cooked well. We are also quite informal and have live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Where do you get your biggest culinary inspirations from?

 I get inspired by great ingredients and from visiting farms and seeing the passion in the farmers. I try not to look too much at what other restaurants are doing because we are all individual and we do our own thing.

What experience and how many years in your opinion would someone need to get to the top of the industry?

It depends on what path young Chefs want to follow but, fundamentally, I think the young guys and girls need to follow the structure of a kitchen that Escoffier set out all those years ago: trainee; commis; demi; Chef de Partie; junior sous; sous. Then, if they feel ready, make the step up to Head Chef where the hard work starts again.

I personally don’t believe you can put a time on this because it is down to the individual. I was Head Chef at Midsummer House at 26 but I was and still am, far from being at the top. Saying that though, there are great Chefs like Adam Smith at The Devonshire Arms who had an amazing grounding at The Ritz. I look at what he's doing and think: I wish I could do that now, never mind at his age. But, going back to the beginning, we all need that rise through every rank to learn the whole kitchen and the different disciplines involved in every section.

What would you suggest those wishing to become expert Chefs need to learn and who are good people to talk to and/or work with?

Roast Creedy carver duck - credit to Rob Whitrow - resized

I think a good start in cooking is to work in the big hotels where you can get to see all of the classic groundings that all Chefs should have. The best people to talk to are the executive Chefs and college lecturers as they will point you in the right direction.

What qualities do you think makes a successful candidate's CV/resumé stand out from other applicants?

Time spent in kitchens is always the best way but, people who have had 12 jobs in 3 years is always something to be wary of. Once you get past this point on a CV, I think it then becomes less about the CV and more about the person. Are they: punctual; smart; conscious of other people; willing to learn and do they have passion?

What would be your top 5 tips for someone hoping to begin a career in the industry?

1) Never believe you have made it. You will always be learning in this industry.

2) Be respectful of others and treat every person the same way you expect to be treated. The kitchen porters are just as important as us Chefs.

3) Write everything down, from recipes to the way a Chef sets up his section. You will be surprised at how many different ways there are of doing things.

4) Respect the ingredients - they will become your best friend if you treat them with the utmost respect. The easiest way to fall out with your Head Chef is if you don’t.

5) Be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices: missing friends' birthdays and important family meals; to live off little sleep and, when you do get the chance to sleep make the most of it. This industry can be one of the most rewarding in the world if you put the hard work in, so enjoy it!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2016

Mark Poynton, chef patron, Alimentum