By Jo Cooksey
If you, or someone you know aspires to become a chef, then you could do a lot worse than joining the team at the Hilton Manchester. Hospitality is a tough industry to work in; long hours, stress, lack of career development but two Manchester chefs are bucking the trend and giving their young chefs the best possible start to their working lives through a programme of education and career development.
Stuart Duff, Executive Head Chef at the Hilton Manchester and his Executive Sous Chef, Nathaniel Farrell are determined to nurture their talented young team of chefs who had previously been undervalued and unchallenged. As Stuart pointed out when we met, “There is a shortage of chefs and unless the ones we have are given a reason to stay they will leave the industry disillusioned and we will have lost a pool of creative and talented cooks.”
Having previously worked for De Vere, Crowne Plaza and Macdonald Hotels, Stuart has always believed in promoting from within and when he joined Hilton he found Nathaniel felt the same way.
Nathaniel said, “We saw a young, hungry team of talented chefs who had been unrecognized and basically left to work one section without any further development. We wanted to the advance the restaurants within the Hilton and we quickly realised that we were going to have to concentrate on our chef’s development too. “ With a team of 30 chefs across The Podium, Cloud 23, bar and room service they were going to have their work cut out.
One of the ways they did this was to encourage the young team of eight to help develop the a la carte menu that changes on a monthly basis. They are given a set of nutritional guidelines and a list of regional, seasonal foods and then it’s up to them to come up with a new dish. The chosen dishes go on the menu and the chef responsible gets to see their name on it as the person who developed it.
The hotel’s suppliers are often invited to deliver master classes in order to broaden and compliment the team’s food knowledge. They have been to Yorkshire harvesting rhubarb and kale, they have watched the fish being landed at Fleetwood and enjoyed a cheese pairing class.
There is also a monthly meeting where the staff nominate their ‘Young Chef of the Month’, for which they receive prizes such as a meal for 2 in the hotel’s Podium restaurant or afternoon tea in Cloud 23 or at The Hilton Double Tree in Piccadilly. Stuart told me that reward and recognition were essential in building a person’s confidence and skills and it also creates healthy competition within the kitchen.
The highlight of the educational programme has been the accolade of ‘Young Chef of the Year’. The winner got to do a job swap with a member of the team at the Hilton in Copenhagen, where Nathaniel used to work. The winner of this exciting challenge was 20-year-old Natalie Dawson, who had trained at Bury College before joining the Hilton in September 2013. I wanted to know what had won Natalie the title and Stuart told me it was her sheer hard work and determination. Natalie currently works on the sauce section and wants to try her hand a pastry next. I asked her what she enjoyed most about her job. With a beaming smile she said, “It’s wonderful to be allowed to experiment.”
I asked Natalie how she had found the experience of working abroad. “Manchester and Copenhagen are two totally different experiences. The Copenhagen Hilton is an airport hotel so it is mainly a buffet style of eating, whereas here in Manchester the emphasis is more on fine dining. Also there were lots of different nationalities working there, so it was great to meet people from so many different countries. I found the whole experience really exciting.”
I wondered if the young man who came to Manchester from Copenhagen enjoyed his swap too? Stuart laughed, “The lad who came over from Denmark couldn’t believe the scale of the Manchester operation. He just kept taking photos of everything.”
It’s not only their own young chefs that Stuart and Nathaniel are mentoring. The seasoned professionals have started a partnership with Openshaw College and most Mondays they go down and do kitchen and classroom sessions with the Level 2 NVQ students, helping them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, such as fish filleting and costing menus. Things they wouldn’t normally cover in course of their college work.
In return the students work towards gaining a 6-month placement at the Hilton. The first batch of four Level 3 NVQ students start in January and will receive a fully comprehensive training that will set them up for the future. The aim is to create and develop chefs at the college who can go straight into a job in the Hilton’s kitchens after qualifying.
The day we visited Stuart had arranged for some of the young chefs to cook their signature dishes for us to photograph and of course sample. We were treated to and thoroughly enjoyed:
- A Duo of Duck. Pan fried breast with croquet of comfit leg, sautéed cauliflower, baby leeks, celeriac puree and a red wine jus.
- Pan fried hake with lobster sauce, soft shell crab and a potato and kale bubble & squeak.
- Eggnog Pannacotta with seasonal berries.
- Pineapple Upside Cake