Words of Advice ~ Chris Staines

There comes a time when you meet people who are, despite what they have achieved or who they have worked for are so modest and approachable that it came as quite a shock. Despite being Marco Pierre White’s former Head Chef at ‘Oakroom Marco Pierre White’  at the pinnacle of 3 Michelin stars, being awarded 5 AA Rosettes & 2 rising Michelin stars in his own right, Chris Staines is a remarkably approachable chap. I first spoke to Mr Staines when he got in touch over the post ‘Its grim up North‘. Whilst he was deeply flattered that I’d done the post & what I’d said about him, he was a little concerned as to it’s origins. Since that time Mr Staines has left the Feversham Arms & returned to Heckfield Place in Hampshire where the opening is estimated to be Spring/Summer 2012.

So as it’s been a while in the making, here are the ‘5Questions‘ from Chris Staines.

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 best piece of advice would be to get into the best restaurants you can, as soon as possible and stick with it. Whilst I don’t necessarily subscribe to the point of view that professional cooking courses or college are a waste of time, I definitely feel that the “learning curve” in a professional kitchen is much steeper and will prepare you for the industry in a way that college just can’t replicate.

I speak to so many young chefs who say that they are “working their way up” to a Michelin star kitchen, in my opinion it is far better to get straight in there and get your head down, take in all of the things you see around you, all of the techniques you are taught. It is far harder to change someone who has been taught bad practice than it is to start with a blank slate.

Most of all stick with it, just because you have one bad experience in a kitchen that is not necessarily representative of the industry as a whole, a kitchen dynamic is a delicately balanced thing, sometimes you just may not fit into that particular kitchens team dynamic, whereas the next place you go may be perfect for you.

On top of these things, read a lot, there are so many amazing cookbooks out there containing everything you could ever want to know, this is by no means a replacement for the practical side of cooking but the more knowledge you have and the better you understand food, the better you will cook.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember that you are doing this because you love cooking, although its very hard work ……it should be fun!!!!

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

Personality and attitude are the two things I look for first and foremost.

It is VERY rare that I will employ a CV. What I mean by this is that if a person is willing to learn, loves food and is keen as mustard, I can do a lot more with them than if they have a great CV but feel they have seen it all and have no more to learn.

Also as I mentioned previously the team dynamic within a kitchen is paramount to being able to achieve the very high standards we set ourselves, without a great team we simply wont get the food onto the plate when the pressure is on. I like to get “Buy in“ from each member of the team, and also like to create a very close-knit team of friends around me.

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

I would absolutely recommend that staff do stages and actively encourage my team to do so. Its amazing what you can see in a few days in another kitchen and it often gives people a fresh perspective, I still enjoy doing stages myself and have learnt some amazing things. Even simple things like the quality of the produce when I went to the French Laundry or the amazing thought process involved in creating a dish at Alinea can inspire new ways of thinking and approaching food.

I have however had some bad experiences where you are stuck in the back room and given 20 bags of baby spinach to pick and don’t get any exposure to the kitchen or the food at all.

For that reason anyone staging with us will get the full tour, be actively involved in service and get to taste everything, we are very open with our recipes and techniques and ensure that they get the most out of their experience. To get a stage with me just pick up the phone and we will set it up simple as that!

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?

That was terribly sad, and should never have been allowed to happen. The industry as s whole though has changed over the past 20 years or so. Unfortunately the nature of the industry does mean long hours and often anti-social hours. However I believe that employers are far more aware of staff welfare than they have ever been; certainly since I started as a young commis.

I personally don’t know a chef who considers a 100 hour week to be acceptable for any of their staff. Staff food is also better now and breaks are quite often enforced (I know many chefs who throw everyone out after lunch to ensure everyone gets a couple of hours off).I have, for many years, tried to ensure that my staff get a reasonable work / life balance, this is much easier when you get their “buy in” as I mentioned earlier.

The team understand that in order for everyone to get decent time off they must really turn it on when they are working, this means that we are constantly busy, pushing, but that when their time comes they will get their time off. It is however a very fine line and one that is far more difficult for the chef / owner, than say a large London hotel.

There will never be a time when the small business owner can afford to have two teams working 8 hours each, it just doesn’t work financially, the staff costs would be about 50% of revenue, meaning no profit at all for all your hard work.

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

Absolutely, as you say television in particular has raised the profile of the industry no end. There are so many great food focused programmes on TV that even non-foodies watch religiously.

Saturday Kitchen, Great British Menu, Masterchef to name but a few. Mainly this is due to the passion and obvious pride of the great chefs featured in these programmes, they have changed the perception that cooking as a career is a last resort if you don’t get your A levels, and shown it for what it really is an exciting, diverse, rewarding industry within which you can be creative and successful if you put in the work.

No-one in the industry will pretend that it is easy but at the same time there aren’t many people who won’t tell you that it’s the best job in the world.

Many thanks to Mr Staines for his time in doing the ‘5Questions‘.

Should you wish to contact Mr Staines for employment opportunities, he can be found here:

Heckfield Place,

Heckfield,

Hampshire,

RG27 OLD

Web: Heckfield Place

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