Continually surprised by the problems and attitudes among chefs, Neil Kirby, proprietor of the Langham hotel, Eastbourne, believes it's time to make them feel appreciated, rather than isolated below stairs in the kitchen.
After more than 43 years in the hospitality industry, I am continually surprised to read about the problem of drug-taking among chefs. All staff in hotels are under pressure, and yet we never hear of housekeepers, sommeliers or receptionists resorting to stimulants in a big way.
Only recently young chef Philip Alford, of Lime Wood country house hotel, sadly died from a suspected heroin overdose. Michael Quinn, the first-ever British head chef at London's Ritz hotel, almost lost everything, including his life, through alcohol abuse. He has since founded the Ark Foundation and now does all he can to warn youngsters about the stresses of hotel work and the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
Why do chefs more than any other members of staff resort to stimulants to get them through the day? They're mainly behind the scenes and it is the waiters, receptionists and management that get the customers' complaints. If a diner is unhappy with the food, it is the waiter or waitress that hears about it - not the chef, hiding in the kitchen.
In my career, seven out of every 10 staff I have fired have been chefs. They can be some of the most difficult and demanding of employees, and often behave as if they own the hotel. When I bought my first hotel, it was not long before I sacked all four chefs and I have sacked even more since then, either because I have been unhappy with their attitude or they were uncomfortable with the high service standards that I expect from them.
I believe a lot of the bad attitude from chefs stems from the fact that they do not deal directly with the customer. Many work in their own little kingdom where they rule the roost.
In my hotel I involve my head chef, Michael Titherington, with the customers as much as possible. He will go through menus with them when functions are arranged, make suggestions and give them food tastings, so that he can make the event special for them.
If we've had a big lunch or a dinner, I will always bring Michael out at the end of the meal and introduce him, so that guests can see the chef responsible for the food they have just eaten, and he is always applauded. This is important. I like my chefs to feel involved.
Maybe the key to this problem is simply to make chefs feel appreciated, rather than isolated below stairs in the kitchen.