Words of Advice ~ Trevor Blyth

This post in the series of ‘5Questions‘ comes from an English chef strutting his stuff in Japan. Trevor Blyth rose to prominence in 1996 by winning the prestigious Roux Scholarship. Rather me rattle on about the competition maybe watch the short film from the Scholarship’s own channel on YouTube:

Originally hailing from Norwich, Mr Blyth now has over a decade in Japan under his belt, and he’s been running his 20 seater restaurant ‘The White Fox‘ since 2006 with his wife. With a more international CV than most Mr Blyth has spent time in a spectrum of kitchens including; Hintlesham Hall (Suffolk), Rules (London), Waldos restaurant, Cliveden (Berkshire), La Pres d’Eugene (France), Le Gavroche (London), The Waterside Inn (Bray on Thames), La Cote Saint Jacque (Joigny, France ), Mallory Court Hotel (Royal Leamington Spa), ‘Pelham Street’ restaurant (London), Barakura English Garden (Nagano, Japan) & Kayumanis (Tokyo, Ginza).

Moving to Japan has clearly changed Mr Blyth’s outlook of life. On top of his answers to the ‘5Questions‘, he also commented on a wall post on FaceBook. Let me set the scene. When I tweet or post on FaceBook or Linkedin I use software called Hootsuite. Which basically means I can post once to 3 social networks in one go. I ReTweeted a tweet from twitter to all 3 of the networks where I have a presence about internet Trolls;

The Chef Hermes Blog on FaceBook

How very true RT @oliverthring: Interesting and rather timely piece about trolling, online comments etc: http://t.co/ApMSUpi

Trevor Blyth

Timely indeed! (I’m just trying to decide how to best answer question 5.) This article overlooks a very real truth. The internet is ofcause, international and blogs and chatrooms are writen in in almost every different language in the world but despite the same anonimity being relevent to every single user, rarely do you find the same level of hate and bile being used in other languages, to the same extent as happens in England in English! Sorry, but it IS true! 😉

Chef Hermes

Everything you’ve said is true, but I think it was because Oliver Thring was getting some nasty homophobic trolls giving him hassle because he upset a set of bloggers by calling them tedious. Which they are.

And so to Mr Blyth’s Words of Advice.

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?

Make sure you get a good grounding by starting in a good restaurant and not being in to much of a hurry to progress up the ladder. Becoming an individually good cook with a sound knowledge of good cooking practice is the most important thing. Read a lot. Cooking must be one of the most written about subjects and reading recipe books, both old and new, is a great way to expand your knowledge. Understand that there is no quick or easy way to become a good cook! Don’t belittle anyone else’s cooking, either another chefs or a style of cooking or any particular country’s cuisine. There is always something to learn from every place and from every one so keep an open mind!

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

Keenness to work and a genuine love of cooking! Cooking, for those of us that genuinely enjoy it, can hold your interest like nothing else. It can be a very creative and rewarding way to earn a living. Of cause we all have to make money from of our ability to cook (and the more, the better) but if money is your main motivation then I would suggest that there are many easier careers. And someone that is interested in expanding their food knowledge and cooking ability is far more attractive than someone that just wants to climb the kitchen ladder. I would be far more likely to employ someone that has only worked as a commis chef in good restaurants as opposed to someone that has quickly worked their way up to sous chef in lesser restaurants.

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

Defiantly! Stages, both long term and short term, provide great learning opportunities. You can see new and different things and you can see the same things done differently. Professional cooking is a constantly changing and evolving environment and stages allow you to get a new perspective and different view point without changing your employer every few months. Don’t restrict your stages to the UK, there is even more to learn and appreciate abroad and the great restaurants of Europe, both classical and cutting edge modern, are on your doorstep. And then, of cause there is Asia and Japan. To get a stage at my place just send me an email or give me a call. It’s a very small kitchen and everyone gets to do everything almost immediately.

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 was very sad to read about this but it is also difficult to understand how it could happen. It is easy to push keen young staff to do more but it is also easy to see when they are flagging and in need of a break.

The very nature of good cooking with daily delivered, top quality, fresh produce sets its own very real time frame. Top level professional cooking is a labour intensive, time consuming process and to become good at it a level of dedication is required. Chefs work long hours in top kitchens all over the world and to be perfectly honest, creating a happy working environment which is conducive to good cooking is a better way of looking after your staff than worrying about 8 hour days, 40 hour weeks and EU directives.

In my humble opinion English chefs are, generally speaking, obsessed with being far too hard-ass with it all, often to the detriment of their own cooking. This is not my experience in France or in Japan or indeed in the French owned restaurants, in which I have worked in the UK. Of cause good chefs should want to cook! Employers and Head Chefs must make sure they take their breaks, make sure they eat 2 good quality meals a day and make sure they have days off and holidays when needed, remembering that everyone is different and has different needs.

Within a long hour, hard working, fast moving, stressful kitchen environment it is good to remember a little humility goes a long way, politeness is not a weakness and common civility is most conducive to good cooking. If you don’t believe me just take a step back and ask yourselves why there are so many more Michelin stars in France and Japan compared to the UK. In my personal experience the top level kitchen environments are far more amicable and friendly even though the hours, pace and volume of work are the same, if not greater.

The real fact is that enjoyable, professional environments create the best cooking!

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

The media, especially TV, has played a great part in raising the profile of the industry in the UK and for the most part this has had a positive influence. Game show style cooking programs are light hearted fun and if they encourage more people to cook at home or think about what they eat then that can only be a good thing. More educational programs which showcase the ever increasing amount of good British chefs, restaurants and produce are also a fantastic promotion for the industry.

However I hate those programs that rely on degrading and belittling others in the interest of ‘entertainment?’ Nobody likes the guy in the kitchen that tries to make himself look good by making others look bad so how could a TV program that does exactly that ever raise the profile of the industry in a positive way?! (Of cause, sadly this isn’t only relevant to cooking programs!) It does help to underline my point in the previous question. If you are better at something than someone else you have an automatic responsibility to use that knowledge or talent to help others better themselves. Weather in a kitchen or on TV the greatest enjoyment and the best results are achieved by perusing the positives and disregarding the negatives.

As ever with the ‘5Questions’ I’d like to thank Mr Blyth for his time and if you’d like to contact him concerning employment opportunities, he can be found at;

The White Fox

2F Kouei Ekimae Bldg.

1-1-11 Kishi-Machi, Kita-ku

Tokyo, Japan

114-0021

TEL:  03-6903-6696

FAX:  03-6903-6698

Email: info@thewhitefox.jp

Web: The White Fox

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Comments
3 Responses to “Words of Advice ~ Trevor Blyth”
  1. My Dad, yes it's really him says:

    As someone who spent my working life in engineering I agree entirely with the sentiments in Q 4 regarding ” little humility goes a long way, politeness is NOT a weakness and common courtesey is conducive to ” … is not restricted to cooking, but to all working environments. The engineering has its ‘ranters and ravers’ but they are not as high profile as some of the TV chefs. So, yes I wholehearted agree with the response to Question 4

  2. Aubrie says:

    Pretty insightful. Thanks!

  3. Really great advice and an interesting interview. I want to visit Japan next summer so may consider emailing him to see about the likelihood of stage. I hate the trend of belittling others efforts in all things, not just food, so I agree with his answers. Thanks for sharing!

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