At just 23, Stephen Crawford is the Head Chef at critically acclaimed, high-end restaurant Black Dove.
So how exactly did Stephen land such a great job at such a young age? Hard work, long hours and a love of fantastic food. We asked Stephen for his tips on training and his insider knowledge of life in a busy kitchen.
Q: Did you always want to be a chef?
From the age of about 17, yes. I left school with not much to look forward to, then found something I really enjoyed. When you find something you love and you seem to be good at it, it all starts to click into place.
At first I worked as a kitchen porter (a dish washer) when I was at school, where I got the chance to help with prep and service. To be honest, I didn’t like it at first. Later when I moved to a different restaurant I had a head chef that told me I could do it, that I could do well. That new self-belief pushed me on to learn more and work better.
Q:What are the best part of being a chef?
The best part is the satisfaction that people are wanting to come and spend their hard-earned money to eat the food that you’re cooking. Being a chef really isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. You really have to love it to do it whole-heartedly.
Q: … And the worst?
The hours have to be a big factor. A standard week’s work for a chef is roughly 50-60 hours, but in some other kitchens it can be 70-80 hours. As much as you get used to the hours, it doesn’t get much easier. It’s the life we chose though, so we get on with it.
Q: What’s it like working in a busy kitchen? Anything like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares?
Working in a busy kitchen can be very stressful. You need to be on your guard at all times for things going right and wrong. Working in a busy kitchen can also be very rewarding when a service is going the way you want it and everyone is working together – that can be a good buzz.
There can be shouting, slamming and arguing yes, but I think the majority of that Gordon Ramsay stuff is just for television.
Q: What’s the training like, and what are the best ways to train?
Training can vary, some people go straight to a college, get a qualification then get a job from there. I personally went into a job, but did a day every two weeks on a release course doing a qualification, while working in the environment of an every day kitchen.
I think the way I did it was the best way, because you need to know how to deal with all kinds of situations in the kitchen – from someone phoning in sick and doing a 40 cover lunch with only one other chef, to having half your orders not show up and you have to change your menu to suit.
Q: What’s been your greatest achievement so far?
I’ve got a few – working in a tw0-Michelin star kitchen, all be it for only six months, is still something I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. The other two are becoming a head chef at 22 and being asked to do a live TV appearance, which was very daunting but a fantastic experience.
Q: What do you hope to do in future?
I hope to either own or part-own a restaurant myself, working very closely with the owners at the Black Dove. They have given me an insight to the enjoyment of getting to make the final call in a restaurant and changing things for the better, as well as how to better the restaurant. That’s the sort of thing that I would love to be involved in.