Chris Wheeler: Career Profile

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Jean-christophe novelli, Chef

Chris Wheeler, executive chef, Humphry's restaurant at Stoke Park
Chris Wheeler, executive chef, Humphry's restaurant at Stoke Park
Chris Wheeler began his career as Jean-Christophe Novelli’s right-hand man at Le Provence in Lymington and went on to work for the French celebrity chef for 10 years. He joined Stoke Park in 2003 and has been building up the hotel’s culinary reputation over the past 10 years, now as the executive chef of Humphry’s fine-dining restaurant.

How I got to where I am now:

I went to Bournemouth catering college and I worked in France for a year as part of my course. That experience was so valuable; when I came back from France I knew I just wanted to be a chef.

When I finished studying I went to work for Jean-Christophe Novelli. I worked for him for 10 years, working at the Gordleton Mill, the Four Seasons and across the Novelli empire which was, until it all collapsed.

Jean-Christophe decided to leave Le Provence one day because he had a row with the owner, so I didn’t have a job. I decided to go and work at Horsted Place in East Grinstead as a pastry chef for eight or nine months. And then I got a job here at Stoke Park.

My biggest challenge:

When I was about to leave college, I had a bit of a problem with my dad. He didn’t quite understand what I wanted to do. He found me a job in a local fish and chip shop, paying £150 a week.

Jean-Christophe initially offered me £50 a week and my dad just didn’t understand why I wanted to go and work for less money. So that was a bit tricky.

The fall of the Novelli empire was also very difficult. We went for the ‘how many restaurants we can open in six months’ approach and I think that was actually our biggest downfall.

When we had Maison Novelli, we had a really great kitchen team. But we then bought next door and one in Notting Hill, then another in Mayfair, then we had the one in France and then we had a contract with Sea France Ferries, and then  another in South Africa. It was just too much in such as short space of time.

To be fair, I learnt so much from that though. We all learn from our mistakes and I think it’s made me a better person.

My greatest achievement:

Being part of the Four Seasons when we received five AA Rosettes was amazing, at that time we were all really going for it and I was actually really enjoying it. To have three rosettes here at Stoke Park is also a great achievement, considering we’re serving so many different types of food from the same kitchen here.

What I love about restaurants:

Service time. You just can’t beat it. When I left Novelli, I looked at doing corporate catering, but if you ask most of the top chefs, it’s all about the service. The rush, the theatre – it doesn’t matter if you’re doing 20 covers or 50 covers, the buzz of the service is something that just never goes away.

What I don’t like:

With the current climate at the moment it’s really hard to find the right staff that actually want work. There aren’t many young people out there who want to work every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. think it’s just the change in the culture.

The work hours can be tough for some people though. Most chefs will marry a nurse or someone in catering. My wife works in catering, you have to be with someone who really understands the working hours you have.

If I wasn’t working in hospitality…

I’d be an elephant zookeeper. I was obsessed with wanting to be a zookeeper when I was a teenager, don’t ask me why. But at school I was really good at cooking so it was a natural career path for me.

My advice for aspiring chefs:

Whatever job you do, hard work has to pay off. When I was younger I was working 100 hours a week as a sous chef and I wasn’t getting paid for it, but the rewards were amazing.

So, work hard and if you don’t think the job’s right for you, don’t do it – there are plenty of kitchens around so you have to find the right place where you think you’re going to learn constantly learn and develop.

What’s next for me:

There’s always stuff going on here at Stoke Park, I really want to get the Michelin star at Humphry’s. Before I had my family I’d say I missed London and wanted to go back. Now, I’ve got two young kids, I’m quite happy to go home and be with them. But who knows, you can’t really predict the future.

The London Marathon:

Chris-Wheeler-marathon
The chef is running the London Marathon with a stockpot on Sunday 21 April

On Sunday 21 April, Chris Wheeler will be running the London Marathon, carrying a 5.5kg stockpot throughout. Celebrating his 10th anniversary at the five-star country club, spa and hotel, Wheeler is raising £10,000 for Capital FM's ‘Help a Capital Child’ charity.

“Seven years ago, I ran the marathon flipping a pancake all the way, so thought this year (with under seven weeks prep time and no visits in the past seven years to the gym) I’m doing it with a stock pot," said Wheeler.

“With your help, I aim to raise £10,000 for Help a Capital Child which supports children and young people affected by abuse, homelessness, disability, poverty and illness in and around London.  I am running for the Breakfast team, alongside Capital FM presenter, Pandora.”

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