Whist in the past the ‘5Questions‘ have concentrated on Michelin starred chefs, occasionally it’s worth while having a look at other chefs in the restaurant sector. This post comes from a chef who made his name from winning the BBC programme Masterchef in 2009 & and subsequently opening his own restaurant in June of that year.
Mat Follas originally started out with a career in engineering. Despite being born in the UK Mat has close ties with New Zealand due spending his formative years there while his father served in the NZ Navy. After living in Auckland, Melbourne & London, Mat returned to New Zealand to gain qualifications in Electronics & Compute Science as a mature student. Prior to opening Wild Garlic & Masterchef, Mat worked as a European Manager for IBM for 12 years. He has openly admitted that he agonised over sending his resignation email, saying in one interview;
After 11 years and one week (not sure how many hours but I was close to counting), I sat for half an hour wavering over pressing the ‘send’ button … wondering how we were going to pay the bills … all that job security gone … that wage coming in automatically every month. The decision itself wasn’t hard but actually doing it, pressing that button, was another thing entirely.
But … bye bye IBM.
Mat has tirelessly devoted much of his time to the Kai We Care campaign in support of the earthquakes in Christchurch.
Here are Mat Follas’s words of advice.
My advice would be to find the best restaurant in the area, knock on the kitchen door and ask for some work. I’ll always hire someone who turns up in person and is keen, over someone who emails a cv, or even worse, shows-up holding mummy’s hand.
2. What qualities are you looking for in your more junior chefs when recruiting new staff?
I only have 1 junior chef. He asked for a part-time ‘waiting’ job but turned out to have good kitchen experience, having worked for River Cottage doing outside catering, loves food and is very keen. He’s now a full-time commis and we’re helping him through college. The worst thing is when people exaggerate about their experience, it’s better to start low and work your way up.
3. Would you recommend that staff do stages & how do people get to do a stage with you?
Yes, it’s the best way to learn, it’s scary going into someone else’s kitchen though. The best way to do a stage with me, is to get in touch by email, twitter etc. We’ve had a number of people doing stages, usually for a week at a time. The shortest was for under 1 hour, the longest was for 9 months (and yes, we paid him after the first week ! )
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?
As an outsider coming in to the industry, there is a real macho culture in many kitchens, which is disturbing, it takes me back to my Dockyard apprenticeship days nearly thirty years ago, and I really don’t see a place for it in modern employment. My kitchen do 50-55 hours per week from spring to autumn and 45ish hours per week for the rest of the year ie. an average of approx 48 hours per week over the year. I probably do 30-40 hours in the kitchen and an additional 30 hours per week running the restaurant, but I own the business, so I would.
I think it’s important that we work in a fun environment, we play naff 80’s music in the kitchen and on Saturdays the team make a special effort to eat a brunch together, that includes front of house. The front of house often take a turn working in the kitchen, so we don’t have a big division between the staff in the kitchen and front of house.
I’m a product of the positive way that the media have raised the profile of the industry. Cheffing is one of the few remaining crafts and I think once you achieve rosette level, it’s a craft that demands a premium and through the media the general public has an insight and is willing to pay for this. It’s now seen as a viable career path for anyone, rather than a job for unsuccessful academic students.
As ever with these things I’d like to thank Mat & Amanda Follas for their time & effort for this post.
If you would like to contact Mat for possible employment opportunities, he can be found at;
The Wild Garlic,
4 The Square,
Dorset DT8 3AS
Tel: +44 (0)1308 861446
Website: The Wild Garlic
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