Sunday, 24 May 2009

Part Of The Team

Last week I made an excuse for not having written about my experiences at Restaurante Ferrero since I moved here to València in early May to start a three-month stage. Well now I can reveal all. In all fairness I did give a hint when I said "things have been moving so fast since I arrived...", but in truth that was something of an understatement. I actually found myself in the position of Acting Chef de Partie for the Starters section within two days of starting in the kitchen. It was a position of responsibility I'd come here to achieve, but when I drove up the hill from Bocairent that first morning I hadn't imagined in my wildest dreams it might happen just forty-eight hours later.

Hotel FerreroBut that wasn't the end of matters. It soon became obvious that other moves and changes were in progress as Head Chef Paco shaped his new kitchen for the exciting challenges ahead. If being put in charge of a section in my first week came as a surprise, what was to happen two weeks later was truly a shock. Last Wednesday Paco called me into his office and asked how I'd feel about spending the remainder of my stage in training with a view to taking up a contract as Pastry Chef this summer. You don't turn down an offer like that... and I didn't.

I came to Spain a year and a half ago to work with chefs who could help me elevate myself from a graduate trainee to Head Chef material. It's a long and difficult climb up that mountain and I've never underestimated the effort and determination that would be required. I've also come to understand the importance of broadening one's experience to every aspect of the job - even if that involves taking big risks. I'm sure there will be some eyes popping open at the prospect of Aidan Brooks as a Pastry Chef, not least my pastry tutor Andrea Ruff at Westminster Kingsway College. But to become a successful Sous Chef you need to be able to manage and develop staff across all sections and it's never a great idea to criticise anyone for failing or omissions that you share with them.

My working here looked like a risky choice for both employer and employee. From my standpoint, having reached the point where I was being told by my Head Chef in Barcelona that I was ready for a Michelin 2* kitchen, but opting instead to work unpaid in a remote, little known, unstarred restaurant wasn't an easy call to make - especially as I had two contract offers and a paid stage offer in Michelin-starred kitchens in Catalunya and the Basque Country. For Head Chef, taking on someone so young and with so little professional experience when you have set such massively high goals for your restaurant looked equally unsafe.

But the truth is that neither of us really took a risk. I did my research properly before I packed my possessions and left Barcelona. I took advice and, when chefs and food writers for whom I have the utmost respect told me "that's a brilliant move", my decision became pretty much a no-brainer. Equally, Paco and his team made enquiries about me and I'm pleased that they proved positive. He also employed some techniques aimed at identifying staff motivation that I won't discuss any further, other than to say that the experience was very uncomfortable but I survived the test.
Picking flowers and herbs for the kitchen

Over the coming months I'll write more about my experiences here, including picking wild flowers and herbs for the kitchen in the Sierra de Mariola Nature Park (see photo above). I would have like to have written up the meal I ate in the restaurant back in April, but the menu was still in development so I was asked not to publish photos of the dishes at that stage.

For now, let me just make the initial observation that, in my opinion, the kitchen here is already at Michelin 2* level in terms of the exacting standards of discipline, the quality and creativity of dishes, the facilities we are working with and the collective expectations of perfect execution. And if the kitchen is amazing, the hotel itself is nothing short of stunning. The video clip (left) is an extract from an advertisement on Australian TV Channel 9's ninemsn website, just after the refurbishment in 2007.

Restaurante Ferrero is a clear step up from my previous working environments and reminds me very much of one or two very famous 2* kitchens that I've had the privilege of being shown around. We're hoping that, come November, The Fat Man concludes that we have done enough to merit the award of a first star. I say "we", because I don't look at myself as merely an employee here, but as part of the team that is striving so hard to make this place successful. If we fail, I'll shoulder my share of the responsibility for that failure. I don't for one moment expect to find myself in that position.


Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Oh WOW! Absolutely brilliant news. Well done!!

docsconz said...

Wow! Wow! Wow! What a story! This is one I am keenly looking forward to following! I can't wait to see what is coming out of that kitchen. There is no doubt in my mind about the quality. The only risk is whether enough people will come to the hotel in this economy for it to survive, especially early on. Has the restaurant been busy?

The Boston Foodie said...

That place is gorgeous and it sounds very exciting but don't tease us with the motivation testing. Now we all want to know the details!

Nicisme said...

This is really wonderful! I am so excited to see that you are going to start as a pastry chef, my favourite course - but I think you guessed that!
Many congrats!!

H.Peter said...

Pastry Chef. Now you are talking!

Create something gluten free that's not just "death by chocolate", you will get huge response.

Paulina said...

Congratulations! Best of luck for this new challenge!

Helen said...

Congratulations! I have been waiting for this post. I wish you the very best of luck but I'm sure you won't need it.

Trig said...

Everyone - thanks for the comments guys. It came as a surprise to me when I was offered the job as I haven't done any serious pastry work since college, but now I've been doing it for a few days I'm really beginning to enjoy it. It's like riding a bike... or in my case driving a car on the right hand side of the road.

Jeanne said...

Hey - I heard that you'd moved and it was all true! Congratulations and I hope it turns out to be a fantastic experience for you.

LJ said...

Wow.... Looks amazing!

gastroanthropologist said...

No need to question your decision - sounds like you are learning lots and thats what its all about. While stars are great and one measure of a restaurant I would argue that I've been to many restaurants that deserve stars and don't have them, and very much so for the other way around.

So jealous right now - everyone's learning in Spain! One of my former colleagues just finished a 6 month plus stage with Pierre Herme in Paris and soon heading to Barcelona to start another stage.

chad said...

Congratulation, Aiden. This will be the first of many great opportunities. Cream always rises to the top.

Trig said...

Jeanne - snap! We both moved in May, though my move was a bit further than yours.

LJ - the way to tell is to book into the hotel and then come to eat.

Adrienne - as a pastry chef you'll be the first to understand that my biggest adjustment comes from the fact that I've not been into recipes for a few years, but doing everything by instinct and taste. I haven't bought 'Ratio' yet but I'm thinking about it. Meanwhile it's back to the notes from my college pastry course. Do let me know where in Barcelona your friend is planning a stage. If he/she emails me I may be able to offer advice or answer questions.

Chad - thanks for your comment, I'm very flattered. I've a long way to go yet but I'm really loving the journey. Reading your blog it's obvious that you develop your staff really well. I've been paying a lot of attention to the line management side of the kitchen in preparation for the future. One day...

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