Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa Co Down


 Meet the Team:Meet the Team:

To begin, a special thank you has to go with all the incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside for 6 months who grew from colleagues to friends and although I can’t name everyone I would like to make a special thank you note to the likes of Paddy, Marty, Jinx, Iwona, John, Emma, Kim, Kat, Ali and Andrea.

Of course the kitchen as many of you are aware is an ever evolving thing, chefs are chaotic and sporadic and keeping a nucleus of chefs is no easy task but I hope for the sake of anyone reading this that would decide to make the move up north and follow in the footsteps of the previous five students to date who passed through it before you then you would also get the pleasure of working with these incredible people listed above.

To begin, a special thank you has to go with all the incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside for 6 months who grew from colleagues to friends and although I can’t name everyone I would like to make a special thank you note to the likes of Paddy, Marty, Jinx, Iwona, John, Emma, Kim, Kat, Ali and Andrea.

Of course the kitchen as many of you are aware is an ever evolving thing, chefs are chaotic and sporadic and keeping a nucleus of chefs is no easy task but I hope for the sake of anyone reading this that would decide to make the move up north and follow in the footsteps of the previous five students to date who passed through it before you then you would also get the pleasure of working with these incredible people listed above.



The Head Chef:

I think it’s important for anyone to understand who you’re going to work for/with and in this instance meet the head chef of the Slieve Donard, Hazel Magill.
I can’t depict her achievements as well as her CV would but one thing I know for sure which anyone would be proud of is Hazel being the company’s first female head chef who hopes to inspire a new generation of female chefs in Northern Ireland.

Two things I would like to point out which I found to be two important aspects for working with Hazel is firstly her previous experience in lecturing in colleges up North. The importance of this point can’t be emphasised enough! To have a head chef who has as much knowledge as she does (at times it seems like she has a library of cook books in her head) and is able to answer any question you have (and me being me, someone who wants to learn and question things, I ask A LOT of questions) she has the answer. To even further that point she knows how to interact with you, how to demonstrate and after some conversations back and forth understands your position as a student and wants to help you. She knows how to be a head chef when it’s need but also a lecturer and a teacher to help and guide you.

The second great point I would raise, along with the previous posts by the likes of Rob, Saoirse, Aine and Sinead which you should also read, will all agree Hazel is brilliant for being cool, calm and collective and being an incredible orchestrator.
To quote Daniel Burns, “All we do in kitchens is try to think ahead, plan ahead, and try to say, ‘Okay, if A happens then B you know, how do I avoid C?’ If I want B to happen it’s only a matter of planning”.

Hazel is brilliant for her planning, which is essential when running a large operation which the Slieve Donard does having various functions running throughout the week, sometimes at the same time and
even during service and these things are only capable of getting done by having the correct plan in place.

Hazel is one of the most caring, passionate and genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my life. I’m fortunate enough now at this point that I would get to call her a friend as opposed to just a boss and that is always a bonus when the people you work for are able to make you feel that way.


My Six Month Work Schedule:

One of the most important things you need to decide after you pick where you want to work is how long you go for. I decided I wanted to make to most of the time, give myself the best opportunity to grow and learn and you can only do that in time and I’m glad I had. My placement was almost broken up into two parts in truth, my first three months and my last three months up there and in that time I was a different chef in those two periods who had two different roles and responsibilities.

July to October – I arrived July 10th which was the agreed upon date on my contract but was treated in a way which wasn’t expected. I had presumed I would come, be given my basic staff room key and would get on with my day but that wasn’t the case. The Hastings group want to show you the bar in which they’ve set so you can match it when you begin. They give you the full work. They give you a room with a view, a meal in the Oak restaurant that night and a preview of the hotel and show you the hospitality they provide each day so you can understand how it is to be carried out. A great touch.

My arrival overlapped with the departure of one of the previous students from the year above, Sinead. This was the ideal scenario for me because I was to become her replacement and for my first two weeks in the Slieve Donard I got to work alongside her during the prep and services to come to terms with the starter section. Two weeks pass and Sinead leaves and the station becomes mine, time to show I can fully prep the station each day for service that night and execute the service to the standard in which they hold. Do that for a week and grow in confidence and speed each day as you become more familiar with your work and your environment and then your attention shifts. You’re no longer doing your prep to reach the standard you were shown but you look at slight modifications and ways you can improve and elevate the dishes while trying to work with the senior chefs around you, bouncing ideas off each other and building your relationships with them.

So too fast forward in time up to October was the arrival of Don for his check in with me. Don arrived just shy of my half way point but up until that point I was only working in starters. After the first month, you’re comfortable in your prep, you’ve made your adjustments and added your touch to the dish and for the last two months my only deviation each day to continue to grow and try something new was a daily amuse bouche which was the responsibility of the starter chef. Some days they were daunting to get done (The amount of times I was up until 5am on my phone looking for inspiration and new ideas to develop myself and impress others was frightening) and others they were your chance to work with a senior chef and get creative, explore the combination of different flavour profiles and textures and learn from them.

From early on working up there I was conflicted with the concept of being an employee and being a student. On one hand, you’re being paid just like the rest, an honest wage to fill a role and carry out a job and on the other you’re also a student on your Erasmus and you’re there to learn and the two need to merge. When Don came I got to sit with him, explain this concept I was battling with and how I was looking to progress and he’s brilliant for being able to open doors and mediate something and so Don I thank you for that. There was a plan in place for me but it was in someone’s head and that’s hard to see and follow when you don’t see it mapped out in front of you and Don helped me have one created. The brilliant thing about Hazel is her door was always open, she was there to talk to and she was happy to speak to me about this. It took some time but she was kind enough to map out this plan and actually gave me a breakdown of my remaining time there, the various sections in which I would be exploring in my last three months so I could have something to work from. In the same way of battling between being an employee and a student you don’t have the same opportunities long term as some other people. I always looked at it as I have a deadline and so you can’t chase promotions or titles but you have to chase knowledge and that was the most important thing for me so having the ability to move up and around expanded my learning and this gave me what I needed, something new.

October to December – After Don left I moved up from starters to the grill in mains. A new challenge for service but also my prep throughout the day. Grill work was something I had done in the past but not for the better part of a year and it takes a bit of time to get into the rhythm of it all and figure out how the senior chefs around you like to operate and how the flow of service goes for mains so there is a bedding in period. To begin it’s daunting but as one senior chef, Marty, used to always say to me “cooking is all about confidence”. Everyday you become more comfortable, better and more confident and when you’re cooking with confidence you’re not second guessing yourself.

About 6 weeks go by with me doing the grill, each time learning something new to improve and to take away from that service. Of course not every day is perfect, mistakes are made but they are learning opportunities. To quote Jayne Ann Krentz: “It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it”.
From the grill the next natural step is to move to the pass where you get to show your creativity on the plate. See how it’s been previously done and how you interpret it. Of course it also let me gain the experience of running the pass in a commanding aspect, calling the dockets, communicating with the kitchen and being the final say as a plate leaves the kitchen. This was a first for me and a real insight into positions I hope to have one day down the line but also shows the level of trust and belief on behalf of the team behind me which is encouraging and flattering.

I ran the pass for about a week straight before rotating between grill and pass depending on the rota for the given week leading up to December which allowed to stay fresh in both aspects. Doing the pass and coming back to grill gave me a further understanding on how I can help the chef ahead of me and helped improve my timing and communication with them because I know myself what I would be looking for from a chef in that position.

This leads into December which saw my role change which I’ll come to in my next post which will highlight the month of December in the Slieve and all it’s glory of the Polar Express and Christmas time up there.

I thank you for reading this and hope it has been helpful for someone in some regard.
Until the next post,
Calem.

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