Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing is at the peak of a glittering career. Having cooked his way through some of the best restaurants in London, he’s been running his own acclaimed restaurant, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, since 2008. Here he reveals his route to the top and spills the beans on how to become a chef, and what qualities would secure you a job in his kitchen.
Your CV is pretty impressive – can you give us a taste of it?
Well, I began my cooking career at The Savoy in 1988 when I was 18 and then went on to Le Gavroche where I learned more about classic French cooking under Albert Roux. In 1993, I joined Gordon Ramsay as sous chef at the newly opened Aubergine restaurant and stayed with him for 15 years, heading restaurants such as L’Oranger and Petrus. Now, of course, I run my own restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel in London.
You’ve had a very glamorous career. Tell us more about your achievements?
Winning rosettes and Michelin stars and starting my own restaurant have been my biggest milestones. I guess other high points have included winning the Chef of the Year Catey in 2003 and the Restaurateur of the Year at the Tatler Restaurant Awards in 2004. I’ve also published two cookery books – “How to cook the perfect ...” and “One perfect ingredient”
Do you owe your success to any lucky breaks?
You don’t really recognise a lucky break at the time – it seems intuitive. I guess there’s an element of being in the right place at the right time, but the key to succeeding as a chef is hard work and sacrifice. What else should young chefs be doing to succeed? You should be listening and learning from more experienced chefs in the kitchen. I’d say everyone I’ve worked for has been a mentor – I recognised that they knew more than me. I think it goes wrong if young chefs think they know better than their boss.
Do you rate catering college qualifications?
Yes. I think getting a qualification at college is an important piece of apprenticeship that gives chefs an outline of cookery. For instance, all over the world, the best way to cook a fish stock is for 20 minutes. College also gives young chefs a good grounding in why we do certain things in a kitchen, such as why you wear chef whites, how to look after them and so on.
How do you prefer a job application to come in?
It doesn’t matter whether it’s by email, letter or telephone, but I will judge each application on whether it’s clear and accurate.
Recruitment in a kitchen is unlike anywhere else in hospitality, can you talk us through it?
I’ll invite you into the kitchen for a trial. Sometimes a chef will come in on a day off, but usually you’ll come for three or four days. I can’t remember the last time I did a sit-down interview. I usually sit down with you at the end of the day, but I’m more interested in the way you cook. A short trial tends to be unpaid so you may only be allowed to watch service. However, my brigade is not allowed to use chefs on trial as dogsbodies. All potential recruits are looked after.
Tell us what you look for during a trial experience
What I’m looking for is how you present yourself – whether you put your whites on without being asked, whether you’re clean and well-presented. I’ll be impressed if you’ve invested in better quality whites, but if you present yourself unshaven or unclean, I’ll send you home. I’m also watching to see how you set up a work area, how you walk round the kitchen and if you show respect. More than anything, I want to see you engaged rather than leaning on walls, yawning or looking bored. If you really want a job, you’ll jump through hoops to get it.
What gets you the job?
At the end of the trial I’ll you ask what you’re looking for in terms of a position. If you’re clever, you’ll say you want to start at the bottom and work your way up. Those who say they want to jump into a chef de partie or sous chef role straightaway always fail. If you show you’re prepared to get 10 or 15 years of experience and work your way up, then you’ll probably succeed. If I see that you’re good enough to progress, you could be promoted from commis chef in a matter of weeks or months.
How hard is it to get into a good kitchen?
Before the recession, chefs could walk in and out of jobs, but now there’s not such a shortage of talent, so you need to prove your commitment more. You need also to show you’re prepared to learn and listen to the advice of more experienced chefs.
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