As I mentioned in a previous post, we're running a themed issue in September looking at the topic of leadership in the hospitality industry.
As part of this we're also looking into a piece on chefs and how to run a brigade.
What does it take to successfully lead a brigade? What are the dos and don'ts? How far can you push people without pushing them too far?
Who have been your biggest mentors and what has made them so great? Have you had any bad experiences in kitchens - bullying, violence, etc?
We'd love to hear from you.
Hi all, well how to run a brigade? I'm not saying I'm the best, as there are plenty of great chefs out there, I have also made my mistakes which I have learnt from. I oversee a team of up to 20 chefs depending on the levels of business, but I also supervise the kitchen porters and front of house team from time to time with the restaurant manager and general manger.
How to inspire them? That’s a tricky question. I motivate each team member differently. I used to be a screamer and a shouter, but have since found it doesn’t really get me anywhere. Chefs that worked for me, moved on faster as they could work in nicer conditions and at a higher level with out the aggravation.
People that have worked with me will know what an effect Chris Galvin had on me as person and also as a chef. I think I saw him lose his temper three times in as many years. Not bad considering the pressure he was under. Conran’s first Michelin starred restaurant, it was great to be a part of that team, leading the way in the company and breaking some records on the way.
Chris's management style is personal to each and every member of his team. He knows how to push you in the right direction without making you feel that that you are being harassed or belittled. He knows when to put his arm around you and give you a pet talk, but he also wants to know you are doing your job properly. I have to say he has looked after me in many ways over the years and I respect him for that.
How far can you push people?
The minute you get physical with a chef, you have crossed a line of no return. You will also get a reputation for doing that as well. I would never send any of my young chefs to someone that will then abuse them, no way. Why would I?? There are plenty of great chefs out there looking for staff, and that don’t feel the need to abuse their staff.
My do's and don’ts
Do Enter your chefs into competitions as much as possible.
Do send them on courses to enable them to see and lean something else.
Do work with college's and local schools to inspire the young chefs coming through.
Do send them on stages to work at different restaurants, your chefs will come back full of ideas that you can learn from.
Do try to give your staff a way of feeding back to you. A simple coffee chat does wonders for morale.
Don’t over work them. To many 80 hour weeks won't do you any favours in the long term.
Don't get physical, there's really no need.
Hope it's some help.
Allan, thanks for your really interesting perspectives. I'd be interested in people's thoughts on the chefs who have been really good - and bad - leaders ...
Leadership in the
kitchen is an interesting one.
I’m making ‘generalisations’ so apart from my personal notes
please don’t be offended if i state something that doesn’t include your
kitchen. That said all comments are
taken from things that actually happened in different kitchens i worked in
throughout my career – ok so that should get me off the hook!
Chefs don’t tend to be the type that bury their heads in
management books. I remember being given a 3” thick book on the subject when i
first took up my position as a head chef. I looked at the size of it, thought
‘i haven’t got time to read that’ & it has gathered dust on my shelves ever
since. Not particularly proud of the fact but it is a fact.
I’d also say the vast majority of head chefs had most of
their leadership training by watching the various head chefs who mentored them
through their career.
The interesting thing about this is the fact that their head
chefs have been directly showing them how to cook to whatever level they are at
but actual leadership training is purely something the young chef picks up from
watching his boss in the vast majority of cases. There is not normally any real
hands on grooming for the role as there is in getting the team to produce a new
dish let’s say.
As a senior sous at Le Manoir i thought i knew it all. I was
running one of the world greatest kitchens in the absence of who i must add was
& still is an outstanding mentor to me, head chef Gary Jones, with 35 chefs
in the main kitchen & more in the pastry and yet it was only when i took up
my first post as head chef that i realised i actually knew nothing about being
a head chef although i would at the time have told you otherwise. I knew how to
replicate someone else’s foods & that was it. It wasn’t my leadership, it
wasn’t team, it wasn’t my food & it certainly wasn’t my fame that bought
either the chefs or importantly the clientele to either work or eat in the
I’m sure this is a scenario that a lot of ‘new’ head chefs
find themselves in. Suddenly it’s their balls on the scales & the pressure
mounts! New dishes, budgets, staff retention, interviews, marketing, PR,
reviews criticising your first menu, compliments, complaints, the list is
endless & then it dawns that being Snr sous & banging out a few covers
on a Saturday night while the head chef takes his holiday is not the same as
being head chef! Not to mention the gaps in your training – ‘oh damn i really
wish i had spent some time in the pastry as i’m now saddled with a guy being
payed twice as much as anyone else who can’t even make puff pastry but i don’t
Yep i’ve been there!
How did i overcome, build the team & receive a
couple of awards with & because of them?
I’m a big believer in leading from the front. It could be
said that its part of my military training being ex RAF but it’s something i
have always done. My mother was a ‘lists’ person.
The paradox being that i run my kitchen with a flat
management structure! That is; we as a team create the dishes and execute the
food through mutual agreement from the commis through to what i call my number
1 (Snr sous type position). Of course i
have the ultimate say equally as i have the ultimate responsibility but the
discussions are completely open & all express views & ideas
freely. The best ideas we then as a
group work on. This motivates the guys
as they see their part of a dish entering the restaurant. In many cases they
have the idea but then no idea how to get there. Thats’ when together we work
Each member of my team gets fully involved in each dish from
the initial research through to presentation.
The initial research could mean spending time on a computer searching
through various science databases we have access to. For example finding the
beneficial effects of chocolate. The findings from this can then have a direct
impact on a future dish. In this particular case one of my guys found that the
most benefits from chocolate that we were looking at can be obtained when
eating 40g of 70% cocoa solids or above. This then gets worked into the dish so
the recipe will reflect this information as that’s our particular approach to
food & the one we’re known for. In
fact it’s an approach we’ve won awards for.
The hours for the team are spread fairly. The starters chef
& myself are normally in first, then the sauce chef & then finally the
pastry chef. When it comes to leaving at night the starter section finishes
first so goes home first followed by the sauce chef after all sauce checks have
gone & finally the pastry chef after we have both sent the petit
fours. The pastry chef cleans down his
section as i leave, after all i came in earlier than them
The whole team used to stop to make the bread so that it all
proved at the same time.
This keeps the hours down as much as we can; it’s fair &
Wages are what i give out for experience but not position.
Everyone basically has the same position. This way egos are restrained &
they all chip in regardless of rank. ‘I’m on the sauce so i’m the best’ doesn’t
come into it. Why is it the ‘average’ sauce chef walks about like he’s got
melons under his arms? Maybe because he is average. These days the sauce is the
easiest section but many head chefs still insist on placing one of their snr
guy’s on there even though the majority of their meat is water bathed? Garnish
is far more difficult in the average kitchen these days so why have the
inexperienced commis doing it?
The best chef for the
I select the chef best for the job to do the job regardless
of position while others are trained to be as good. I had a commis chef plate
& present a particularly tricky dish that apart from me (we agreed ;0)no
one else could quite get right visually. It was easy to demonstrate &
therefore unanimous. Demo the presentation against a timer. Get all the guys to
dress the same plate in the same time...can’t bugger around during service. It
turned out the best guy was the commis with the stutter! We could all see that
simply by looking at the results. So that was it. Every time that dish came on if
i was away the snr chef moved aside & the commis with the creative eye
dressed the plate. I’ve been fortunate that my snr’s have also been big enough
to not let their egos get in the way of what we as a team are doing.
You’re only as good as your number 1 & he by definition
can’t be good at everything otherwise he’d be head chef, right! Its’ also
interesting to note that some of the best number 1’s in history actually failed
miserably as outright leaders so nothing is guaranteed no matter what the
Each year we all go out for an experience at what we
consider one of the UK’s best, usually limousine etc paid for with excess tips
which is also great for team bonding
Out of service we have a good laugh; I’d hate to be in one
of those places where the guys think ‘ oh shit the chef has just arrived’. I fear it may be the opposite. ‘Great, here
comes the looney tune i have no idea how he does it but somehow it works’!
In service it’s usually silent apart from calling the checks.
Everyone knows what they are doing so there’s no need for shouting in fact i
found that we are quicker to spot a problem if it’s quiet.
Being physical with them doesn’t come into it although i humbly
admit regrettably in my very early days i was immature enough to make & pay
for those type management mistakes.
Its’ inevitable that at some stage chefs & team members
want to move on. I found the best way to deal with this is to actually speak to
them as a team about this particularly when they start.
It’s bred into the team that’s its one for all & all for
one. It wouldn’t be the first time i overheard one of my younger guys mention
to a newbie ‘you know the chefs leaving policy? Just let us know, eh’. It’s the
‘us’ bit that strikes me most.
They all know that i’m perfectly ok if they want to move on
as long as i know about it. It really is as simple as that. I don’t get bitter
about people leaving. If it’s not right for them it’s not right for the team.
I currently have one of my ex guys who left & went to Le
Manoir, he’s just been promoted & moved onto the sauce (no melons i’m sure!).
How happy was I!
I texted politely about why he hadn’t told me before Gary
had & next time let me know, only to find that he was on his hols &
Gary hadn’t told him yet so i actually broke the news! Proud to a fault!
The more notice they can give the better. 6 months notice
from some of my team was not unheard of. Sometimes I actually encouraged them
to move on because they needed to for their own good. A nice scenario to be in!
Personally I’m not into risotto, terrines, pasta etc so they need to go
somewhere where they will learn those important skills. Once they have these
skills they can use and abuse as they like but i believe they need to make that
decision after they know how. Without that type of knowledge it would be like
painting with only two primary colours, there’s only so much you can do with a
This means it’s a planned departure, they got help with
stages for their next positions (i’d make the appropriate calls etc ), the team
wasn’t left in the cack so everyone won. Chances are they may settle better in
their next position too which always helps.
I’m acutely aware that out of the old teams environment my guys are
wearing the old teams badge still & the new chef will be watching intently!
Although we don’t really have positions in the kitchen when
they do eventually move on they are recommended for the positions they would
carry in other kitchens along with references & the support they need. This
support extends to giving advice as needed well after leaving, sometimes years
but after showing me loyalty it’s the least i can do in return.
Of course there are always those that don’t quite make it in
someone else’s kitchen for whatever reason.
I was given a quote recently ‘People don’t leave jobs they leave
managers’. Brilliant & very ‘business world’. The person who told me of
this quote on a subsequent occasion asked me why one of my ex guys had left one
of his friends restaurants. I was inclined to repeat his quote but thought
better of it!
Dealing with problems.
There are always teething problems particularly with new
guys but i’ve found the best approach is humour. When i first started out we
used to have a little chef teddy sat in the office window. Rather than me
yelling at whoever it was a ‘postit’ would be placed on the window like a
speech bubble coming from ‘Teddy mug offs’ mouth. No one likes to be put down by
a 5” piece of crushed nut filled material shaped like a teddy & it worked.
No one knew what he was going to say next, the message got across in a humorous
way & problems were overcome. Chef ‘Teddy mug off’ wielded so much power he
even got kid knapped at one stage! His brother had to take over for a bit. The
ransom probably being beer i can’t remember.
I’m sure that 9 times out of 10 the vast majority of the
problems in the kitchen are actually down to the chefs management. If you give
the team a selection of rough recipes written out on the back of a fag packet
then what do you expect when a new & nervous commis enters the kitchen?
Worse still no recipes because the pastry chef has left & took them all
Consistency was consistently drummed into me when i was
working at Le Manoir & rightly so – the customer deserves it. So how could
i guarantee this when i became head chef? I was getting a bit bored with the
team constantly coming up to me in the middle of an new idea & asking
whether this or that was ok for seasoning & it wasn’t so i then spent time
faffing to correct or re-correct whatever it was. I then stumbled on the idea
of using micro scales to measure anything under 10g including salt, its more
popular know but i’m talking about 6 years ago. From then on all recipes were
typed out, printed, placed in laminated folders but also were so accurate we
even had sauces with an acceptable final tolerance of +/- 50g & that was
from starting with 6L of stock. Obviously i still tasted everything but it was
always in the ball park seasoning wise & each recipe was tested & re
tested by myself before handing to them with very precise instructions.
I didn’t realise at the time but this cut down training time
severely. We showed the newbie how to do a recipe once & it was so accurate
even with the seasoning he immediately had confidence all the recipes would
Actually what this meant was that if you came to eat &
didn’t like something it would be equally as bad the next day & to exactly
the same degree!
Learning styles are different for everyone so treat them all
differently - to a degree. I must admit Le Manoir was great for this. 35 guys
& everyone with a different learning style!
Being anal in the
I’m ex forces so i know how to sew on a button & press a
crease so sharp that you can shave with it. Does this make me a better chef?
Good kitchen leadership i think is about being anal in the
right areas. I’m not going to send a chef home because he hasn’t had a shave or
because his trousers are the wrong colour. I can’t think of any other artistic
profession where such things matter? The same people demanding such things then
wonder why they have such a high staff turnover. It can be bad enough as it is
without then having to bike home again to have a shave all the while leaving
the rest of the kitchen one man down & the chef bragging to his mates on
the phone about how hard his kitchen is?
They work the hours so give them some slack. Not the whole
rope just a bit.
What matters & ‘really’ matters is their performance for
what the client is actually paying for. The perfect execution of the days
That said they must wash & what they are wearing must be
All in all i’ve been very fortunate in heading a couple of
great teams. We have achieved some nice & noteworthy things together. The
loyalty between us is such that we still contact each other & in fact we’re
meeting up again for another team bonding trip even though we are now long dispersed.
Front of house
So far I’ve only been allowed to run with this type of
management style in the kitchen as its previously been made clear the front of
house (FOH) is out of my area however with my next venture the FOH will be sat
there ripping what we do to bits along with the chefs, & they’ll be twice
as many people at our team bonding events! We can only gain from this but
ultimately our clients will too. Atmosphere is not something that can be bought
it surrounds a happy team.
Clients don’t just demand good food these days it’s about
the overall experience & that’s impossible to achieve without a great front
of house team. I believe that in the next few years the ‘experience’ is what
critics, & customers will be talking about most, good food & the chefs
ego on a plate just won’t be enough.
One thing i have noticed in my time is that sometime when
the FOH is down in numbers the chefs in the kitchen will still go on their
breaks etc while the FOH struggles to get back on an even keel. If we’re in it
together then we are all in & if i’m cleaning silver & polishing
glasses then i know i won’t even need to ask my guys, they will be with me
I’m certain that this type of management style just won’t
suit everyone in fact maybe not anyone else at all but i’m the type of guy who
was smoking a pipe behind the bike sheds at school while the other kids smoked
cigarettes! Enough said!
If you've read this far then i've obviously sparked your curiosity which was my intention so thanks for persevering
For those that don’t know I’m currently between restaurants so i’ll keep you posted
Many thanks for this Chris. So many useful points in there. I will certainly come back to you for the feature. Thank you!