We talked to Aidan Fraiser on making it as a Chef.
Aidan runs Cria Talent, a business that represents some of the finest brands in the UK and the Middle East and works in-house to attract and retain the very best people. Aidan is also a trained chef himself, has over 20 years experience and owns and runs White Label Detroit Pizza.
He is an exert of the interview below.
What are the first steps you need to really take to start that journey to becoming a chef?
‘I think to start the journey, I think you’ve got to have a consideration. Where are you thinking about taking it? What is your end goal? And it can be flexible. But are you joining a kitchen just because you want a wage, just because you want an hourly rate? Are you joining a kitchen because you love food? Are you joining hospitality because you enjoy that side of it? Do you enjoy eating and drinking out, and you enjoy mixing with friends and having that second family? What are you looking for from the industry?‘
‘I think no one needs to answer this on their first day, whether they want to run a hotel, run their own restaurant, or an events company. That you can work out as you go along. I think identifying what is taking you into the industry to start with, and knowing that about yourself is key. Just a little bit of self exploration. What are you good at? Are you good at following directions, following orders and replicating that in a high stress environment? Are you a little bit more free willed and want to do things your own way and differently? Having that serious chat with yourself first is a really good idea.‘
That’s a really good point actually. A lot of people maybe wanting to get into the kitchen might not know what types of work are actually available in the kitchen. Could you give us maybe a little rundown on the different areas where someone can progress in and end up?
‘Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really exciting time at the moment. Those traditional formats have expanded quite a bit recently. Most people’s first role in the kitchen would be either a kitchen porter or kitchen assistant which means cleaning up and just helping with basic prep. Some people go straight into the commis chef, and that’s working directly with the food. That’s probably your first job title. But the first role, the first environment depends greatly on the type of company that you joined. If you’re joining a fine dining kitchen your role and responsibility is going to be slightly different to if you join an events company or a smaller gastropub.‘
‘I do recommend hotels. Often people say, what should be my first job in hospitality? I do recommend hotels for people, because generally it gives you space just to look at other departments and reconsider and just reassure yourself, are you in the right Department for you? Perhaps ‘front of house’ would suit you better, maybe maintenance, maybe housekeeping. They’re all still in hospitality. But I think in the first role you need to know you’re in the right environment, and hopefully the kitchen is the right place for you.‘
I think it’s quite easy to see if it is the right place for you. I would say, and I’d ask you your opinion, when you start out in the kitchen it’s probably quite clear to see quickly if it’s a place that suits you or not?
‘Yes, there are different types of kitchens of course, and in event kitchens perhaps you might spend a week doing prep to get ready for one big event on whatever day it happens to be. They might spend Monday to Friday getting ready for the event, doing all the prep, and then Saturday is the day of the event. So it could be quite a long day of intense pressure.‘
‘Restaurants tend to be a little bit different. You get lunch and dinner service depending on your rota. You might have two quite intense services and then lots of prep in between which is a little bit calmer. An all day dining restaurant is different again, that ticket machine just keeps rolling all day so there is pressure all day.’
‘If you get into a kitchen and enjoy the work, but feel that’s not the right environment for you, have a think or have a chat with somebody such as myself or your own mentor and ask them, am I in the right place? Should I be trying something different? Should I look at another type of environment before leaving altogether?‘
You touched on it a little bit, but maybe just to make it a bit more clearer on what a progression through a kitchen would be. So obviously we talked about starting on pots and pans and washing and then perhaps moving into a commis chef. I’m not sure it is a linear process, but in general, from the bottom to the top, what’s the kind of process?
‘Okay, I don’t believe that people do have to start washing pots and pans to get into the kitchen. It’s an option, it’s a way in. But you have Kitchen Assistants, Kitchen Porters and you also have Commis Chefs who are perhaps a bit more skilled in the food side of things. After Commis Chef, you would then perhaps rise to a Demi Chef de Partie, a Chef de Partie, a Junior Sous Chef, a Sous Chef, a Chef de Cuisine, then you’re perhaps looking at an Executive Sous Chef, then a Head Chef then the Executive Chef, and then often that’s the top but there’s sometimes a Culinary Director above those people as well.‘
What do you think are the most important qualities or characteristics someone needs to be a chef?
When I’m interviewing chefs and those people that have met me probably either had me ask them this question directly or had me explain why I’m asking these questions. I’m trying to work out if a chef is coming into a business, are you a soldier or an artist?
The chefs that are artists are the people that make food so beautiful it makes you want to cry. They’re the people that push our culinary inventiveness forwards. They’re the people that you’ll leave behind, once you’ve all cleaned down, washed up, finished service and go home. They’re the people that are still tinkering about with different ingredients and messing around because they want to do it. They tend to be a little harder to manage because they’re so focused.’
‘Then there’s the other side, which is the soldiers. The people that enjoy food, love creativity probably, but are in our industry because they love the buzz. They love food. They love the people. And my job is to try and work out which side of these two roles, these two mentalities do we have? I would again suggest they need to think about if they’re coming into a kitchen, where are they? Are they somebody who can follow instructions, repeat and make a dish, or are they somebody who wants to be super creative all the time, pushing boundaries and doing different things? They need to have a little bit of an understanding about themselves and coming into the industry.’
‘That is my best advice. Have a think about what type of person you are. How did you follow the instructions from the manager? What do you want to do? You think about those. That’s the top skill you need. We can show you the rest. We can show you knife skills. We can show you how to stand. We can show you timings. All the rest we can train. But it’s just a little bit of knowledge about yourself that’s important.‘
Check out Aidan’s restaurant @ https://whitelabeldetroitpizza.co.uk/
Check out the full interview in our Job Today Chit-Chat podcast below.