David Mulcahy, Culinary Director, Sodexo

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2015

As an executive chef, David Mulcahy gained experience directly delivering food services in a range of catering environments, from select fine dining to major contract facilities with multiple outlets.

Originally from Ireland, David trained to be a chef before moving to the UK aged 21. He is now responsible for culinary development and craft strategy at Sodexo and sits on the steering committee for the FutureChef competition. He is current vice President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, the largest Chefs Association in the UK. As a highly experienced competitor, he has gained numerous awards on the national and international stage, including winning Culinary Olympic and World Cup Gold medals. He now coordinates many of the UK’s leading competitions and events, including National Chef of the Year, The Craft Guild of Chefs Awards and The Skillery at Hotelympia.

The Staff Canteen spoke to him about culinary competitions, female chefs and why he still loves being in the kitchen.halibut dish

Career and working in London

What made you want to leave Ireland and go to work in London?

I was working in a hotel in Ireland at the time, then I got a phone call from the Penta Hotel asking if I wanted to come and work for them. It was a large hotel, 800 bedrooms and I was there for about five years. In that time I was introduced to competitions and was invited to become part of the Craft Guild of Chefs Culinary Team. We entered National and International competition and we became the first team to win a Gold Medal in the hot kitchen at The Culinary World Cup in Luxemburg. I went on to win individual gold medals at later Culinary World Cup events and in the Culinary Olympics in Germany.

Are competitions something you enjoy being a part of?

Yes, and obviously I’m still heavily involved in competitions. In the beginning it was new and a good eye-opener to the world stage, for a chef who was still young and training I was able to compete against different nations and do quite well at it. Even to this day I tend to use competitions as a training tool. My view is that once you focus on doing something to the very highest level, researching things you wouldn’t normally do, there’s a goal in front of you. You’re focusing on perfection which can only be a good thing.

5 favourite restaurants:

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Restaurant Regis et Jacques Marcon, France
Out of the Blue, Dingle Ireland
Rivea, by Alain Ducasse
The Square 5

Comfort Foods:

Old fashioned desserts especially a good Bramley apple pie.
Cheeses especially Compte
A rich and warming meat or game casserole in winter (Irish Stew included of course!)
Homemade Soda Bread (my grandmothers recipe)
Moules Mariniere (with champagne and crusty bread)

Most influential chefs:

Phil Howard
Paul Gayler
Pierre Koffmann
Anton Mosimann
Peter Gordon

Current role at Sodexo

So how did you end up in your current role at Sodexo?

I got into contract partly because at the time I felt I had no knowledge of contract catering but I saw that it offered training and development. At the time hotels weren’t very good at offering this. I gained a lot of experience as it’s something contract catering allows you to do. Now I’m Culinary Director at Sodexo and that involves the food development, menu development, innovations around food, understanding culinary trends and supporting the business in any way it needs to be supported. I’m involved in all areas whether it be fine dining, business and industry, corporate catering or event catering – we cover a huge area.

As well as the different areas of development you are also in charge of chef training – tell us about that.   

We have in excess of 2,500 chefs in the UK and we run a training programme from apprenticeships right through to senior chef development. We have systems in place to make sure the highest standards are rolled out across the business. Training and building strong foundations for food and service is critical in ensuring our clients and customers receive the very best every day. This industry still faces challenges in recruiting young people to enter it and I am committed to making sure Sodexo can offer a valuable career opportunity for our chefs.

Craft Guild of Chefs and the National Chef of the Year 

As well as your role at Sodexo you are heavily involved in the Craft Guild of Chefs and the National Chef of the Year competition. What’s it like to be a part of that and what drew you to it?

I was National Chairman and I’m now Vice President of the Guild and have instigated many changes over the years. In particular I have driven and reshaped the National Chef of the Year competition.  In my view it’s as strong as it ever has been! I’ve got a big legacy to protect and it is important that the UK’s premier chef competition remains relevant, reflects today’s fast moving market and of course the chefs who operate within it. We actively encourage chefs from all sectors and ethnic restaurants to enter. More recently I have introduced The Young National Chef of the Year competition which has been a tremendous success. Each year we make changes and adapt the competition so it’s always relevant and in line with today’s market.

Are those changes what keep the competitions credibility?IMG_7488

Absolutely, for example we are looking at ethnic diversity and gender diversity because this competition is not just about winning a medal or an accolade. It’s actually a whole programme where people will be training. So whether they win or not there are a number of different plus points to entering the competition. From a career and a self-development point of view as well. I would say Chef of the Year is unique because of the communication we have with chefs and industry partners which is significantly more than any other I have ever been involved in.

Does the calibre of judges encourage chefs to be a part of it as well?

Absolutely! Last year, throughout the competition and particularly in the final, the judges were of a phenomenally high calibre. It was a huge draw and I think for chefs when they are being told they should enter, seeing their peers actually being physically involved that says a lot about the competition. dish2

You mentioned gender diversity, would you like to see more women taking part?

In this industry there is a pattern where female chefs are concerned, in that at a senior level there are less female chefs who are known. This year, for the first time in the NCOTY history we will have a female chair of judges – Clare Smyth. She will be a very strong ambassador and she will lead the team of judges. Ultimately what we want is a very diverse collection of entrants no matter what their background or gender.

Advice on entering National Chef of the Year

So what advice would you give chefs looking to enter?

I would say firstly that passionate, driven, well-motivated chefs who want to progress in their career should take up this opportunity that will give them exposure and a stepping stone. This competition offers a lot of support, a lot of mentorship and it encourages and helps people to do as well as they possibly can. It’s a tough competition but it’s a fantastic competition.

You’re clearly very passionate about what you do, do you still get the opportunity to cook yourself?dish4

I do because I do a lot of the chef training, and I do a number of charity dinner events in aid of Stop Hunger Charity. So although not cooking on a daily basis I have to be absolutely on the ball when it comes to knowing what our chefs are doing in terms of training and from a menu development aspect. I need to know what is being cooked on a daily basis. I love cooking, I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like but that’s the sacrifice you make when you are in different roles. I’m never happier than when I’m cooking and surrounded by other chefs.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2015

David Mulcahy, Culinary Director, Sodexo