Words of Advice from – Alan Murchison

From the outset of this post I would like to thank Katerine Alano from the Caterersearch & the TableTalk forum who facilitated this for us. Obvious thanks to Alan Murchison for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this for us.

Alan Murchison is a busy man to say the very least, fresh off the back of the launch of Paris House, he is now looking for a new property in Edinburgh for his company 10in8 restaurants. With a background in some of the best restaurants in their respective fields; Inverlochy Castle, Nobu, Claridges, L’Ortolan and Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, he is widely recognised as one of the future great chefs in the UK. Alan recognises and rewards talent from within his group of restaurants, on the purchase of the former Hibicus site in Ludlow he installed his Head chef from L’Ortolan, Will Holland.

1.  What would be your best piece of advice for a fresh face school leaver who is obsessed with ‘Food Porn’ looking to get into the industry?

My advice would be to get a variety of experience in different levels of the food chain, pub, hotel, contract catering and fine dining , this way they can see the different levels of the industry and also the amount of commitment required to make it in their chosen field, we are very lucky that our industry is hugely varied and that ‘food porn’ is a very small percentage of the trade.

2.  What qualities are you looking for in your more junior chefs when recruiting new staff?

Attitude is by far and away the most important element in recruitment at any level, whether they have come from a 3* in France or a country pub in Shropshire they must have the right mental attitude, we have seen chefs who could have enhanced the product but were not team players, that’s not for us. Nobody likes a smartarse.

3. Would you recommend that staff do stages & how do people get to do a stage with you?

Stages are hugely important in my view, i have had some great experiences personally and actively encourage my guys to do the same, we also welcome stagiers into our kitchens and again the right attitude is very important, be punctual, shave, be immaculate and ask lots of questions, we often ask stagiers to cook us a dish , it’s a great way of seeing where they are in regards to culinary ability and confidence, about half of the chefs we now employ first came to us on a stage !

4.  In light of the recent death of a young chef through excessive hours (on average 100+ per week, for multiple weeks – See our post), does the industry need to change & what changes have you made to reflect this in your own kitchens?

It saddens me greatly that somebody has lost there life over effectively food !, however at the top of any profession there is level of commitment and dedication that comes before anything else in your life and if you make that choice then so be it, your own personal quality of life comes second, any chef sitting with a Michelin star has had to make huge personal sacrifices to get to that level,  hence the fact that very few chefs ever achieve that level, there is not a right and wrong way to cook just different levels of commitment and personal sacrifice required.

If you chose to work 40 hours a week then great but you will not be putting out food that is the best it can possibly be, impossible. However you will have a life. The life of a Michelin or aspiring Michelin starred chef revolves around attention to detail and constantly striving to make everything at least 1% better, not getting out early on a Friday night to go on the piss with the boys and then turning up with a hangover on a Saturday morning and doing an average job, go out on a work day ? find yourself another job ! fact. The guest experience comes first.

In the current financial climate people are going out less often but spending more money , you must exceed their expectations every time or you will lose them forever, 100% commitment is required and if that means a 16 hour day then fair enough.  You will know that before you set foot inside the door.

In our business we encourage the guys to take all their holidays, any birthdays/special occasions that they want off we would try and honour, we close Christmas and New Year and increase annual holiday entitlement by 5 days per annum after 2 years service. If we can get them out early, then fantastic, however we won’t compromise on quality for the sake of an early night.

I wish i had a solution to the long hours required however excellence will always come at a price.

5.  Do you think that the media (in particular television) have raised the profile of the industry in a positive

Overall television and the raised media profile of the industry is a very good thing, personally doing a high quality food based programme like Great British Menu had been both very enjoyable and more importantly hugely positive for the business, it is a very different discipline though and should not be confused with being a restaurant chef , there are very few chefs that have managed to be on TV a lot and keep a level of integrity in the trade and continue to run very high quality operations, Raymond Blanc, Mr Ramsey, Mr Blumenthal and Mr Rhodes have all in my view managed to do this very successfully, you then have the ‘presenter’ style chefs you have no product or brand other than a tv image and that is not good role model, as tv is governed by fashion and current trends and if it all stopped tomorrow they would have nothing to fall back on. Being famous for being famous has no credibility in my view and some of the food programmes on tv currently are tragic.

Jamie Oliver has also won me over with all his great work recently for good causes, chickens, kids meals, healthy eating, teaching people to cook, ect. I absolutely hated the cheeky chappy , pukka, awright mate, rock salt , olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fake Italian cockney cookery type of food show he started with and now have changed my views massively with new found respect for the fact he is using the media and his massive influence to change peoples habits for the better.  Great work and a real positive for the industry for a whole.

It saddens me greatly that someone would come into our great industry with the sole intention of getting on tv. Learn your craft well and if you get a chance to showcase your talent to a bigger audience then you would be a fool not to go for it, however never forget about your guests and remember bums on seats pay the bills not being on tv. Tv will take you to a much greater audience and then use that as a way to keep your business going forward and improve the quality of your operation, but make sure you have real culinary talent first other than being a pretty boy chef who can read an autocue.

For career opportunities with Alan Murchison, contact him here;

www.alanmurchisonrestaurants.co.uk/

Each contact details for each individual restaurant are available through the website.

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Many thanks to Alan for doing the ’5 Questions’ for the Chef Hermes Blog, it is much appreciated and hopefully an insight for our more junior readers.

Next for the 5 Questions, is Tom Aikens of  Restaurant Tom Aikens & Tom’s Kitchen.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Words of Advice from – Alan Murchison”
  1. chumbles says:

    I’ve been meaning to say this for a while, but these little snippets are brilliant and thanks to you and the chefs for taking the time to put their ideas and thoughts down on ‘paper’. Really excellent stuff and I think this sequence of ‘interviews’ should be required reading for potential chefs and those in training. Well done and keep up the good work.

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