Friday, 22 January 2016

Why the head chef needn't rule the roost

Certain celebrity chefs have built their careers and reputation around the way they rule the roost in the kitchen but do head chefs really have to be prima donnas to reach culinary perfection?

Award-winning food writer Romilla Arber doesn’t agree and has recently introduced a fresh way of thinking to her Honesty Group, of which the Crown and Garter in Inkpen is part. The team there believes that it’s vital to be upfront about where food has come from, what’s in it and how it’s cooked. Her ethos is a no-waste, ethically-sourced menu from local producers.

She also believes that the traditional hierarchies that are traditionally associated with chefs, stifle innovation and she prefers to encourage what she calls a “horizontal management structure” in the kitchen.

She said: “Many kitchens can play host to lots of screaming and shouting with the head chef having the last word. It is hard for some chefs to incorporate others’ opinions and people often wait for whoever is in charge. We decided to make the kitchen democratic, which means people can put forward their ideas and really be heard. The key is communication, communication, communication and people are encouraged to support each other,” she adds.

All of the kitchen staff meet every fortnight and they all have a voice in how to move forward, what ingredients and dishes are going to appear on the menu and are given the chance to experiment with flavours.

Chef and team member Dan Hellyer admits to a degree of trepidation when the new way of working was introduced.

“I was incredibly dubious at first!” says Dan. “In a lot of kitchens you just do what you’re told. The head chef decides what’s going on the menu and every last detail such as how it will be cooked, plated and presented. Even if that chef is away, it will be the same.

“However, anything is possible with the right attitude. It is a slightly unusual way of doing things, but there’s a safety net as you have different layers of people with varying levels of experience. Also, what’s the worst that could happen? You have something on the menu that no one orders, so you just change it!

“At our meetings, there are plenty of new menu suggestions. After all, no one thinks the same and everyone sees things on the plate differently and has different ideas about flavour. As part of our commitment to not wasting food, we use the whole animal and that’s meant that we’ve got some unusual things on the menu. We have included dishes that perhaps people in the country are more open to than people in the city, such as lamb faggots, chicken livers and pork scratchings.

“These are all our best-sellers, but are items that might not have been tried under a traditional management structure.”

Dan adds that the concept works because the team comprises the right mix of people. “We’re incredibly lucky to have a diligent conscientious team with great personalities.

“It relies on people taking the responsibility for certain areas,” says Romilla. “Everyone believes in in the system and engages with it. We are empowering people and putting them together with different strengths so they can learn from each other. It is incredibly good for people’s confidence.

“Every dish that goes on the menu is not created in isolation. It is the product of a number of skills and backgrounds. We believe in fairness for our customers and staff and we want them both to be valued. You won’t find anyone else doing the things we are doing.”

The Crown and Garter was voted Best Newcomer for the South East and London in the Great British Pub Awards 2015 and shortlisted for Food and Travel Magazine’s Readers’ Awards 2015.

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