Sian Wyn Owen, head chef, River Café

The Staff Canteen
Name: Sian Wyn Owen

Sian Wyn Owen discusses her role as Head Chef at River Café and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Sian Wyn Owen

Place: The River Café, London

Role: Head Chef

Bio: Sian Wyn Owen is one of the few female Head Chefs at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK. She first joined the River Café in Fulham in 2000, becoming Head Chef six years later. Owned and run by Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey, River Café employs a half-women, half-male kitchen - a rarity for a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Chef Skills

Sian Wyn Owen takes us through her 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 been in this position?

Nine years.

Is it much more difficult for women Chefs to reach the top levels of the business?

I think it is quite a male-dominated profession - not at the River Café, we’ve got half women, half men here – but a lot of places are quite male-dominated and women definitely have to work a lot harder to get respect. You need to be better than the boys to get to the same level, I think.

So it’s harder being a young female Chef than it is being a young male Chef if you don’t want to do the pastry if you want to be a cook.

What are your ultimate top tips for someone looking to start a career in the industry?

1. Be really sure that you want to become a Chef because being a Chef is not only a career but it’s a way of life. If you want to earn a hundred grand a year as a Chef that’s going to take a really long time and you’re going to have to work really hard. There are other jobs where you can make a lot more money quicker, it’s only a job you’d do for passion.

River Cafe food

 2. I’d say you’d have to cook for yourself a lot. Sometimes I’ll ask people at interviews what they had for dinner last night and if they said ‘I had a ready meal’ I’d more or less discount them immediately. Cooking is a way of life, you have to constantly be getting your hours up,  that passion for food always has to be there.

 3. Eat out a lot, as much as you can afford to, anywhere. So you’re always having a dialogue on food and on restaurants, you have to make it your life.

 4. Put your ego behind you, especially at the beginning- if you’re soaking up all the opinions of everybody else that you’re lucky enough to work with. You might think you’re the best cook in your family but as soon as you get into a professional kitchen, you’re highly likely to be one of the worst.

It’s nice to have an opinion and an interest, but when you’re in a kitchen you need to put your head down and work hard to impress.

5. I guess if you want to be good at any job, you need to be committed to it. It’s unsociable hours, you’re going to be standing up all day, working in a hot and stressful environment as part of a team. I think that especially nowadays, people see Chefs on TV and think it’s a cool job but being a real Chef requires a lot of skill. I think you need to go into it with your eyes open to the fact that it’s a physically demanding job that is often hierarchal and you need to be prepared for that.

When a new Chef comes into your kitchen, what are the things you most look out for in them?

I look for people who have got a nice, cheerful personality, positive people with a good busy energy; somebody who moves around quickly. I wouldn’t necessarily go for the person with a lot of kitchen skills so to speak, someone who could produce twenty styles of a potato dish, I’d go with someone who wanted to learn.

Who are the key Chefs and restaurants that someone should be speaking to and trying to gain experience with?

River cafe

I think it depends, if you’re a young Chef who needs an idea of where to go, I think you need to be eating out, constantly having a dialogue with yourself about food. If you think Asian food is what you like then go and research the best Asian restaurants, hone in on that and then find, say ten of the best Asian restaurants and work for them.

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th April 2017

Sian Wyn Owen, head chef, River Café