Passion – Over used not overdone

shutterstock_178577969MJ Flanagan looks at lessons from some of the UK’s top kitchens to define the key ingredients in any successful team.

I have often felt that ‘passionate’ is an overused word i.e. ‘I’m passionate about my job’ or ‘I’m really passionate about customer service’. However, having developed teams for The Fat Duck Group, Fifteen, Selfridges and worked with the UK and Global Relais Chateaux chefs at their UK and Global conference I  saw how truly passionate teams can ensure profitability; and by following their lessons other businesses could achieve a better bottom line too.

At Fifteen (Jamie Oliver’s project to offer a restaurant career to disadvantaged people), we gave the master chefs (senior trainers) training skills to help them develop their apprentices and junior chefs. They were driven, knowledgeable and genuinely loved food as well as being enthused about the company’s mission. They talked about how they look forward to the food shipments from Italy; the smells, the taste and the quality of the products.

At the end of the course each chef was tasked with delivering a 20-minute training session about any subject they wanted and would be given feedback on their style. I learned how to make chorizo, how they grow vegetables and all about the olive oil they use (which incidentally is delicious and limited to 4,000 bottles per harvest and each bottle contained the olives from one entire tree). People were incredibly supportive of each other and the apprentices and were immensely proud of the teams they had helped develop.

By now we were getting on pretty well and so I was invited to attend the apprentices’ graduation ceremony. It was inspiring to see how these young people had come from some very difficult backgrounds and very tough circumstances and have dealt with real challenges head on, and they explained how – without the help of the chefs, kitchen porters (yes that’s right they did not take their KP’s for granted like many in the hospitality industry), front of house and the whole of the Fifteen family – they would not have made it. They have managed to secure jobs in some of the most high profile hotels and restaurants in London including The Ritz. What was most impressive was Fifteen had closed their restaurant for the night so that every member of the ‘family’ from kitchen porters and cleaners to the main board (though sadly not Jamie) could celebrate in, not just the apprentices’ success, but also the achievements of the group as a whole.

At The Fat Duck, Heston Blumental’s legendary restaurant, alongside his superb Heathrow  Terminal two restaurant The perfectionist Cafe we delivered ‘Don’t lock me in the walk-in’ ‘Manage as well as you cook’ a fast track leadership course for chefs and front of house service excellence training for the wait and bar teams.

With the Relais chateaux chefs we discussed the importance of maintaining core skills whilst still ensuring their hours worked are more realistic for their wellbeing. How we can attract more youngsters to the business through apprenticeships and the opportunity to travel and  finally how we can ensure the food is more sustainable, supports local artisan producers yet retains the quality Relais Chateaux are known for.

It was fun! They were engaged, they questioned and were very honest about the challenges they face so we could give very specific,  relevant training and draw up action plans that made sense. At the Fat Duck I was given a tour of the kitchens, labs (where Heston, the alchemist, cooks up his latest headline dish) and their legendary cellars. At the Relais Chateaux conference I watched how the chef brigade at Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons produced truly magical food that took mine and my fellow diners breath away. (Many of whom were Michelin starred chefs from across the globe) and wherever I went the chefs were completely engrossed in their tasks, with one telling me this was the first time he had been allowed to make the ‘aero chocolates’ on his own and he wanted to get it just right (apparently only 7% are thought to be good enough to make it to the table). The attention to detail and the pride they took in ensuring every dish was perfect showed that what ever age these recruits enter the kitchen they are dedicated and wish to succeed.

Both the restaurants, and the chefs conference although very different in style and cuisine had many similarities. Here’s my definition of the ‘great eight’ high performance team behaviours they showed’:

  • They only use the highest quality products, which the chefs could get excited about
  • Each person was committed to the success of the business and was extremely proud to be part of the company or association
  • All had strong elements of teamwork and family ethos, which gives the employees a sense of community, security and safety
  • They had clear vision of having robust development programmes in place to ensure their teams not only had the technical skills they needed to succeed, but also the softer behavioural skills,
  • All encouraged others and their teams to come up with new ideas and recipes. They were listened to and believed in. This gave them a real vested interest in the success of the business
  • There was strong leadership at each site – visible, hands on with leaders working to inspire and motivate their teams
  • The vision and values of the business were strong and well communicated
  • All the teams I spoke to understood the importance of continual development and future proofing the business and the industry for the 21st century, finding creative ways to be sustainable and aware of the impact food production has on global warming.

These restaurants and chefs I worked with are highly successful. Are they successful because they do all the above or can they do all the above because they are successful? Chicken or egg? It seems to me you can’t have one without the other. When I tell people I work with kitchen teams teams many say “Oh bet that was a nightmare, a room full of chefs – how did you get them to listen to you? “Actually, I have never had a problem; they were a joy. Chefs have an innate desire to learn, to do better and (hurrah!) the drive to pass on this learning and expertise to others. This makes them some of the best leaders of any industry  and a bank to a retailer could learn from them. These teams oozed passion for the products, for the job and for the companies they worked for. Could you say the same about your team?

If you want to improve the people management skills of your chefs why not send them on the mjinspire skillsbootcamp the May session is Recipe for success – How to manage and motivate your kitchen brigade and Finders Keepers 21st Century recruitment, how to find and attract the best talent then keep them. Email

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