So this week we’ve had a glut of responses to our calls for chefs to participate in our series of ‘5questions’. One such respondent was Heston Blumenthal’s former Head Chef, Dominic Chapman. Now ploughing his trade just down the road from The Fat Duck empire at The Royal Oak, Paley Street near Maidenhead. Having a celebrity co-owner in Sir Michael Parkinson, it would have been easy for Mr Chapman’s food to be overshadowed. That coupled with having a father, that is considered by many, to be one of the peers of the hospitality industry in Kit Chapman at The Castle in Taunton.
Needless to say Mr Chapman has gone about his business and achieved his own status, he was awarded a Michelin star in January 2010, maintained a 5/10 rating in the Good Food Guide from the previous year and yet only scores two rosettes from the AA, scandalous!
Mr Chapman’s background is that of the more casual dining scene despite having a quick dabble in the serious high end fine dining for 3 months at The Square, he decided against that avenue of cooking. He has such places as Kensington Place, The Chiswick, The Square & The Fat Duck on his CV, but Rowley Leigh seems to have made the biggest impact on his career. Yes, he was inspired by Mr Blumenthal’s attention to detail but the food wasn’t every day approachable. With his wife doing some part time shifts for Nick Parkinson, the chance came for Dominic to step out of the shadow of his famous employer at the Hinds Head and he joined The Royal Oak in January 2007.
Here are Dominic Chapman’s ‘Words of Advice’.
1. What would be your best piece of advice for a fresh face school leaver who is obsessed with ‘Food Porn’ looking to get into the industry?
The most important piece of advice I can give to young people wanting to get into our industry is to make sure they work in a good kitchen for an intelligent chef. There are too many young cooks out there working in kitchens that just have no idea what they are doing and for young impressionable people it’s just no good. Do your research and learn to cook properly. It’s also important to like and respect your Head Chef.
2. What qualities are you looking for in your more junior chefs when recruiting new staff?
When I’m recruiting for junior positions in my kitchen I’m looking for enthusiasm in the people I am interviewing. I stress to them that all I want is honesty, reliability and them being prepared to work hard. I am very happy teaching young people and in my experience being able to mould someone to your way of working is sometimes much easier than having someone with more experience but a few bad habits.
3. Would you recommend that staff do stages & how do people get to do a stage with you?
I think stages can be very useful. I have done many stages over the years and it’s a great insight into how other kitchens work and what other people are doing. I very much recommend that my staff do stages. However, it has to come from them rather than me pushing too hard for them to do it. I am quite lucky in that my staff is very keen to do a stage and they ask me rather than I have to suggest they do it.
We also get a number of people on a stage at the Royal Oak. Basically all people have to do is give me a call, we arrange the dates, put it in the diary and that’s it. I’ll never turn down a pair of hands, and if people make the effort to come and do a few days free work then there help is usually pretty useful.
4. In light of the recent death of a young chef through excessive hours (on average 100+ per week, for multiple weeks – See our post), does the industry need to change & what changes have you made to reflect this in your own kitchens?
None of my chefs have ever had to work 100 hours per week. I am a strong believer in a balanced life and would not want to be in a position where I had to or had to make other people work in a kitchen those sorts of hours. If I choose to spend all my time off working then that is for my own personal gain. I think it is completely unrealistic to expect young people to do those sorts of hours, I am sure that any kitchens making people work 100 hours per week do not get the best out of their employees and I also can’t see people remaining in their job that long. Restaurants need to employ enough people so that everyone can have some time off. It is vital for all to have a balanced life. Work hard but also enjoy life. 100 hours every week in any kitchen cannot be healthy for mind or soul.
5. Do you think that the media (in particular television) have raised the profile of the industry in a positive way?
From a chef’s point of view the Television revolution is good but I think has become too much and in some areas devalued what we are doing.
I like Keith Floyd, Rick Stein, Gary Rhodes and Jamie Oliver. They are the TV chefs with cooking programmes that are actually interesting and make you want to cook something at home. These days every time you turn the TV on you can find a cooking programme or a celebrity chef cooking or trying to see how quickly they can cook something from some sort of goody bag. It’s not so much the programmes I have a problem with, it’s more the people involved and the actual content.
I guess with all the chefs on TV the positive effect is that it gets more people interested in becoming a chef. The reality however is its bloody hard work and not the glamorous celebrity life style they see on TV.
The answer to the question is yes I do think television has raised the profile of the industry; I think like everything in life there should be a certain amount of balance. Too much TV can very easily spoil a restaurant by a chef spending too much time in front of the camera. However a little TV will allow you to have a full restaurant and enable you to create something truly special. I’m sure Rick Steins Empire in Cornwall would be a lot smaller without the help of TV.
The media and television can only be a good thing in our industry, we just need to remember the reason the television and media were interested in the first place and make sure these distractions don’t affect us in a negative way. We have all seen the effects on some people in our industry when they forget about their restaurants for the silver screen.
The Chef Hermes Blog would obviously like to take the opportunity to thank Mr Dominic Chapman for his time. Should you wish to approach him for a stage or just go & eat, he can be found here:
The Royal Oak Paley Street
01628 620 541
Would also like to credit caterersearch for some background information as well.