My real story: Simon H

Age: 43

Education: Year 10 and then Commercial Cookery at TAFE

Current position: Executive Chef, Mercure Hotel Sydney

Number of years at the hotel? 2 years

What does my role entail? I oversee all kitchen operations at the Mercure Sydney. I have a wide range of responsibilities from sourcing the best products, working with suppliers, writing menus, recruitment, training and development, and ensuring safe work practices and food safety standards are exceeded at all times.

How I got my start in the hotel industry: I started in my first hotel in 1995. I was influenced by my former chefs to move to a hotel, as they were known as a great training ground with a variety of offerings.

Does anyone in your family work in a Hotel? No, we’ve all taken different paths. However, my two grandmothers have worked in kitchens and hospitality jobs.

Why do you like working in Hotels? I enjoy the large team environment and it also is my best chance for a work life balance with my family.

What surprised you about working in hotels? The biggest surprise is how large an output a small team can do. I think people look at any hotel from the outside and would think there’s a big kitchen and a lot of chefs in there, but that’s not always the case.

What has your career path looked like to date? I left home in the country when I was 16 and headed to Canberra.  My first job was washing pots and doing basic kitchen duties, before starting a 4 year apprenticeship. I worked in a couple places before joining a hotel in 1995. Since then I’ve progressed myself from Commi Chef to Demi Chef, Chef de Partie and then on to Junior Sous Chef to Sous Chef, up to Senior Sous Chef and for the last 12 years Executive Chef. I’ve worked in 7 hotels in this time and 6 of these were Accor.  I’ve overseen the kitchens of multiple properties at the same time.

During your time at this Hotel, what has been your proudest moment? Seeing where my team was and where they are now. How much they have taken on board and how much change they have adapted to.

What has been your greatest professional achievement to date? Being recognised by my peers and receiving the Accor NSW/ACT Chef of the Year award.

Have you won any Awards? I have been honoured to receive the 2016 Accor Hotel Awards NSW/ACT ‘Executive Chef of the Year’ award, 2012 Accor NSW/ACT ‘Chef of the Year’ award, 2014 Accor Hotel Awards NSW/ACT ‘Talent Development’ award, 2012 Accommodation Association of Australia (AAA) ‘Department Manager of the Year’ award, 2012 ‘Employee of the Year’ and ‘Employee of the Month’ awards. I was also a ‘Chef of the Year’ finalist in the 2017 TAA NSW Awards for Excellence.

Where do you wish to go from here? I haven’t really decided yet, I still love being a chef and training younger chefs to give them the basics to get them started on their way. Maybe one day in a training field, but I still love the rush of a busy kitchen.

What challenges do you face in this role? Recruitment – the lack of people who want to be a chef for a career is one area. I find today there’s a lot of short order cooks doing it for various reasons. And there is a need for these people to keep the industry afloat. I see people with 2 years of study in jobs that took most 4 years to achieve. They take up so much energy as they have no skill set and really struggle. It puts added pressure on them and the chefs around them.

Why do you like working in the accommodation industry? I love doing a variety of different styles of events and this allows us to see many types of foods and trends, not just for our restaurants but for our bars and function facilities.

What message do you have to tell others about working in the accommodation industry? We are a busy industry, we work hard as a team to achieve big things. For me it’s about the team.

What advice would you give to people considering a career in Hotels? My advice for a young cook today: it is more than just a job – you will only get out what you put in. Even if you work for a company as a chef, you are your own business – how well you can cook, teach, how you represent yourself, and how you support the team around you. Learn how to self-teach, use the technology of today or read. Be motivated and be part of the whole picture not just your own. Get as much training and knowledge as you can, don’t chase titles they will come with experience.

Have you met anyone famous during your career in Hotels? I have cooked for a number of NRL and AFL sporting teams as well as making lunch for an old American rock band ‘Cheap Trick’. My favourite was getting Peter Brock’s signature at a function I was involved in many years back.

Can you bust any Hotel career myths? Pay is pretty much similar to other parts of the industry but the hours for line chefs are 38 to 40 hours. I guess the next time you get asked what you earn maybe compare hours and break it down you might be surprised.

What training have you received from your employer as part of your professional development? Hotels offer a large variety of different training and development courses. There are a few that I have done from marketing, finance to managerial, environmental, cultural awareness and interviewing and recruitment.

Tell us about one of your best Hotel experiences? I was lucky enough to stay in a castle in Ireland and the hospitality shown was some of the best I’ve experienced. The chef went out of his way to cook a degustation menu for me on a night it wasn’t available. Having dinner in a castle while the chef flambés my fillet steak on a 17th century Spanish sword at my table – you just don’t see this. He came and found my wife and I the next day and gave us a tour of the grounds and the medieval banquet hall they use. It takes you back to why you join this industry – we do our best to make people have an enjoyable time.

Do you manage people? If yes, what is that like? Yes, managing staff is very rewarding in watching your teams grow and do things that most would say you can’t is an awesome achievement on the team’s part. It can be hard balancing each of the needs of different people, but you do what you can.

What skills have you learnt on the job? I’ve learnt many skills – not just culinary, but people skills and life skills. It is a great industry to learn from younger chefs and different cultures which is a very lucky resource to have.

What are your working hours like? Executive Chef hours vary in hotels depending on expectation and what type of professional chef you are. I don’t know many executive chefs that work 9 to 5. Yes there are pressures, yet all industries have some sort of pressures.

What’s the pay like? This will always depend on what level you are at, and there is nothing better than giving out a promotion to people that have worked hard to achieve a goal.

Anything else you’d like to add? The industry has changed considerably over the years and has become more adapted to the next generation. I would not hesitate in recommending starting a career in the hotel industry in any area.