She was part of the team that saw the restaurant change to Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in 2008, and then Marcus in 2014, before being appointed joint chef-patron alongside her husband Mark in 2017.
Speaking at Food on the Edge in Galway last month, she discussed Marcus as a mentor, and how her experiences drove her to change kitchen culture now she is heading up the team.
Starting in the restaurant
I went and did a business and hospitality degree so came into the kitchen from a slightly different environment. When I walked in to the restaurant with Marcus 12 years ago as a student I didn’t have that much cooking experience. That kitchen then was really quite horrendous, it was aggressive, and you didn’t know who was going to turn up the next day. Nobody spoke to me for the first three months, I didn’t know there was a staff canteen, I didn’t know you could go and get some food in the afternoon. I left pretty much 50% the person I was when I did go back to university. But what that taught me was that I never wanted to make someone feel that way.
Making a change
Now I’m a partner in the restaurant with Marcus alongside my husband and we’re at the stage where [that culture] has gone. We’ve got staff members that have been with us five or six years. We don’t want chefs to come for a week or a day, it’s embarrassing if they’re going to walk out of our kitchen and go in to another restaurant and say ‘they treated me like crap’. It’s not right, and it’s too competitive nowadays. There’s too many fantastic restaurants out there that treat their staff really well.
I don’t think [gender] has a role in that. I think it’s great to have a balance in the restaurant but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or woman how you speak to anyone.
The role of a mentor
I’ve been in restaurants with Marcus for 12 years, my role has changed so much because otherwise I would have gone somewhere else. What he did as a mentor was open up opportunities for me so I could continue to grow and learn within the business.
It’s very rare that a cook will come in to our kitchen with a complete skill set. They’ve got some sort of basic training and have been to college, but they don’t have the ability to listen to their peers and respect each other and us as managers. It’s a learning curve, teaching them and pulling them up on it when they’ve said something unacceptable.
What things are important to be a role model?
Being present and in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s easy to get sucked in working on the computer.
Slowing down is important as well. We all run a million miles an hour and do need to stop and explain to a cook what they’re doing wrong and why, rather than just saying ‘that’s shit, do it again’. That’s what it used to be like. It was almost like they were setting you up to fail and wanted you to so you could get screwed for it. It’s just a waste of time, energy, money and produce.
We’ve tried to make the restaurant a better place. We’ve got 28 chefs including kitchen porters but we do give everybody their time off. When I started you worked six days, and if you were late you worked an extra day.
Helping chefs when they ‘hit a wall’
We don’t have chefs banging down the door for jobs, it’s just not the way it is anymore. We’ve had a couple of instances where commis chefs have hit a wall with us and moved on because they needed to see something else and gain a bit more maturity. So they go elsewhere and then come back into more senior roles.
You see more of these people than you do your own family. It’s a fascinating industry because it will be the first adult relationship or grown-up job some of these guys have had.
Advice for young chefs
Take your time and enjoy it. If you go too fast and hard at it you’ll burn out. Absorb every bit of information you can along the way. Give yourself a chance to grow or you’ll suffer in the end because you’ll not be able to manage it.
Food on the Edge is a two-day food and restaurant symposium held in Galway.