Kitchen confidential: All the best bits

The secret chef has walked away from a hugely successful, award-winning restaurant to enter the world of chef-consultancy

The plan was to take the summer off. I had scheduled in some time away from the stoves so I could spend a few months settling back into the realities of life, away from the restaurant kitchen, after I shut the doors on my place of work. I wanted my forearms to heal, my hands to soften and my pace of life to slow. I wanted to get back to a level of fitness that had previously been impossible, train for some ultra-long-distance runs and focus properly on my diet. I wanted to see family and friends and spend some valuable time with my wife. I wanted to walk my dog and be able to say “yes” to all those events I’d previously had to reply to in the negative.

Of course, I was flattered when the job offers came in. Flattered and surprised. The industry is small and news of the restaurant’s closure travelled fast. Most offers came from places of a similar style and location to my own, all keen to employ a newly available head chef. I politely declined them in turn. Standard offers turned into propositions of chef-patron positions with the possibility of equity share. And when these were turned down they were trumped up to offers of investment. For reasons I am still yet to fathom, the restaurant-going public seem to think that part-owning a restaurant is a romantic idyll. For reasons I understand perfectly well, I know that the reality is far from idyllic. I was committed to having some time off, and maybe even putting the finishing touches to the book I’ve been working on for the last two years.

But then an offer came through that I couldn’t dismiss outright: a new restaurant opening in another country that needed a consultant; someone to guide them through the notoriously difficult first few months. The backers wanted a chef who had earned their stripes and not only proved themselves on the stoves but, more importantly, on the business front as well. They’d heard of me through a former employee and after a brief telephone interview I was offered the job. I accepted almost immediately.

I’m a mercenary and it feels great. I get to do all the things I love but none that I hate

Naturally, this torpedoed the plans for a wholesome summer spent with my wife and dog. Instead I am spending weeks at a time out of the country while they both remain at home. I am back on the line and staring down stressful services on not much sleep. I’m drinking a little too much and have almost no time to devote to running or writing. On the surface, it looks like I’m back in the same place that nearly broke me not so long ago.

Except for one crucial difference: somebody else is paying the bills, including my frankly extortionate consultancy fee. In just eight weeks I will earn the equivalent of what I took home over the last 12 months. Of course, there are some expenses: flights and living costs in a pricey country, but they are virtually irrelevant, given the salary.

So, all of a sudden, I’m a mercenary and it feels great. I get to cook in a brand new kitchen, to develop dishes, to do all of the things I love but none of the things I hate. To work with a wildly enthusiastic and talented team and create something new, to go through the excitement and thrill of an opening and then walk away as soon as the shine wears off. And I get to do it all on someone else’s dime. Holidays can wait.

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