Think you can do better than beans on toast?
So did Gordon Scott- now landlord and head chef.
"Growing up in a family where both parents worked full time meant home cooked meals were a rarity.
At school (The Downs in Compton, Newbury) we studied Food Technology in year seven, but aside from this my experience of cooking was limited to say the least. It wasn't until I left school that I discovered my real passion for food. "
Having tried a variety of jobs, I landed one as a kitchen assistant in a pub - mainly sicking things in a microwave! I loved the atmosphere of a busy kitchen, but I knew this wasn’t the way to cook food properly to bring out its flavour, texture and goodness. I started to think about dishes and how I could make them better. It sparked an interest in me and I felt compelled to learn as much as I could.
My mum googled “best cooking college in England” and Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking, Surrey, came up. I applied, went for an interview and was delighted to be one of ten to make it on to the course to study for the Cordon Bleu Diploma. I was 17 and had to move away from home, but I couldn’t wait for the challenge. At Tante Marie we cooked every day, everything from Indian, Chinese and French, to Italian, Spanish, Sushi and basic skills. This really helped define the style of cooking I have today.
During the course, I worked as a part time commis chef in a pub and managed to secure a stint at the 2 Michelin star Vineyard at Stockcross. My first full time role after college was as chef de partie at the Carnarvon Arms in Burghclere. I worked hard, paid attention and learned everything I could.
In 2010, I was approached to join the kitchen team at The Sun Inn, near Basingstoke, as sous chef. My job was to work closely with the head chef, helping with new dishes and adapting them ready for the menu. When the head chef was absent from the kitchen, it was my job to make sure all the staff were working efficiently and that produce was ordered for the next day. It was a big responsibility but I thrived on the challenge.
"Put the job before the money"
18 months later, the head chef left and I was offered his job and the role of landlord. I was 20 years old. I took over the complete running of the pub and six years’ later revenue has increased by 520%. In this time, we’ve won many national awards too including Pub Chef of the Year and Gastro Pub of the Year, and gained 2 AA Rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand. It’s been hard work but I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel incredibly proud of everything I’ve achieved. Plus, I’m only 26 so the best is yet to come!
Gordon Stott’s 6 Top Tips for Trainee Chefs
• Start small, think big – get a job in a smaller kitchen where you can learn the ropes quickly and gain experience across many aspects. In larger hotel kitchens you could end up picking spinach for a year (been there done that!), and while you may become an expert in this area, you could be missing out by not throwing yourself in at the deep end.
• Be on time – reputation is everything and you’ll want to make sure you get a good reference for your next job. Make sure you are always on time and turn up ready to work.
• Be positive – yes, the hours are long and you may be wondering when your next ‘break’ will be, but a positive attitude will not only get you through the long days, it will also make you a popular member of the time, and impress your boss!
• Learn from others - Make sure you’re always learning from the people around you. If this stops happening, or you feel like there’s nothing new to learn, move on! Find your next challenge and continue to push yourself to widen your knowledge, experience and capability.
• Don’t get bogged down with qualifications – this may sound controversial, but while it’s good to have formal qualifications, they’re not the most important thing. Job experience and on-site training can be just as good. So if sitting in a classroom all day isn’t your thing, get out there and get your hands dirty. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up in a short amount of time.
• Put the job before the money – it’s so easy to take a job because the money’s good, but my advice is: look at the bigger picture. Make sure the place is right for you. Think about whether your passion can be nurtured at the place you’re moving too, and not just going through the motions. The money will come in time but a good opportunity may not.