Ellie Barker from Penum was extremely lucky to grab five minutes with Executive Chef of the Fat Duck Group, Ashley Palmer- Watts. He’s currently opening the new “Dinner by Heston” in Melbourne, Australia.
We asked him about his experience being mentored by Heston, the benefits of staging, and his advice for young Chefs.
Q1. Early in your career you were mentored by Heston, how important do you think mentoring is, in a Chef’s career development?
Mentoring really is the secret ingredient to success. When you are mentored by a great Chef, they cascade their passion, knowledge and experience to you, helping you be the best of the best.
What made Heston a great mentor, was that he constantly pressured me to be better, whilst giving me the freedom to learn and grow. The best advice he gave me was to question everything.
Q2. You’re a busy man! Travelling between Australia and the UK, setting up the new “Dinner by Heston Blumenthal” in Melbourne. What helps you maintain balance and perfectionism under such a hectic schedule?
First of all my family, spending time at home is the best tonic, I love to ride my bike too, I travel with a road bike to be able to get out in the fresh air to help think things through clearly.
Q3. Did your early experiences abroad staging in various Michelin restaurants shape the way you work and approach food?
Absolutely it's an invaluable experience, every kitchen has their own ethos and approach, you absorb these as well as interesting techniques.
My favourite restaurant I staged in was probably Charlie Trotters, in Chicago. I spent a month there working under the executive chef Mathias Merges. He had incredible presence and a calculated controlled manner, it was incredible to be able to watch how he organised and ran a kitchen.
Q4. What Michelin food trends do you see arising for the year ahead?
It's hard to say, but we are always looking for incredible produce and finding the best way to incorporate them in to new historically inspired dishes.
Q5. What’s your advice for young Chefs?
Staging/work experience is a must to help Chefs learn new techniques and find their niche. There are great competitions like the Chef Stagiaire awards, young chef competition for example, where young Chefs can compete and be challenged to create under pressure.
You can learn so much in so many ways, Read, read, read, read, and read, books, websites, then eat out as much as up you can afford, take a few days and write to chefs that you admire and ask to spend some time in their kitchen in some of your holiday.
Look for mentor programs, and ask someone you respect to mentor you and help get you where you want to be. Set up a drink every month or so catch up, share your latest ideas and challenges. Our industry is full of great people who want to help you, but you need to ask for that guidance and be the driver of your own career. Get inspired and make your dreams a reality, anything is possible.
Penum’s free Yacht Chef Mentor Program reopens in 2016. For more details, or to be included in next year’s intake please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.