Quick Recipes and Easy

The Life Of A Trainee Restaurateur

Exhilarating, demanding, emotional and rewarding, this is the life of a trainee at a Michelin starred restaurant. Ludlow has long been seen as one of the country’s gastronomic hotspots. We’ve heard and read about its fantastic restaurants, been to its widely celebrated food festival and sampled much of the fantastic local produce. We all know about the well-known chefs who successfully transformed Ludlow’s culinary scene. But not much is known about the work done, and the experiences of the people who work in the kitchen to help produce the fantastic food we eat.

Christopher Genner is a young trainee restaurateur. Following the closure of the Merchant House and the impending sale of Hibiscus, he works at what could soon be Ludlow’s only remaining Michelin starred restaurant Mr Underhill’s at Dinham Weir.

Chris started working in the food industry just over three years ago and has since worked in a variety of establishments: “In 2003 I started work in a busy whole food café/restaurant, the Olive Branch in Ludlow. I’d never done that type of work before but I loved it and found the people simple to get on with. In 2004 I went from the Olive Branch to Dinham Hall Hotel and worked there for a year before moving to Mr Underhill’s”.

Many of us delight in cooking and find it an enjoyable experience but it’s very hard work in a professional kitchen: “I didn’t start out with any preconceptions and have loved the work in all of the restaurants. It has all been hard work but rewarding. I usually start at around 3 in the afternoon. I have to deal with arrivals to our rooms and also check the menu with our guests. I also have to make sure everything is ready for service in the evening. Service starts at 8 p.m. with guests arriving in the dining room around 7.15. We usually end between 11.15 and midnight. I work 5 or 6 days a week which includes weekends.”

Mr Underhill’s has a fantastic national reputation and Chris thinks it’s the service that makes them stand out from the competition: “A lot of top restaurants can have a very uncomfortable atmosphere but we try to make people feel comfortable and at ease. If you are relaxed and enjoying yourself then the food will taste better.”

Working alongside a Michelin starred chef can be a daunting experience but drawing on their vast knowledge and experience is helping Chris to develop his skills: “It is vital to work in different establishments so that you can take different thoughts from each business. At Mr. Underhill’s the consistency of the product is very excellent, every part of food is equal, this is vital because people will complain if they feel they have less than others. Also, Chris and Judy Bradley, (the owners of Mr. Underhill’s) have over 50 years of Michelin Star experience between them, so their depth of knowledge is incredible.”

Dealing with awkward customers is one of the few downsides of Chris’s job although he says there are very few at Mr Underhill’s. When questioned what the most rewarding part of his job was the answer was simple: “Making people pleased.”

Unusually for someone working at a restaurant Chris is a vegetarian. Food writer Matthew Fort wrote in the Guardian “Most proper chefs – most, I repeat, not all regard vegetarians as a damned plague and react to the abstinence from meat with the same horror that most of us reserve for Hunnish practices”. Chris thinks that this is perhaps right but insists being a vegetarian has been of small hindrance to him: “People see a vegetarian as someone who eats roasted carrots and lettuce. Cooking for vegetarians is a nuisance for the Chef because he has to cook them something special. But being vegetarian hasn’t affected my work greatly, I do get a small stick but it is all light-hearted banter.”

Ludlow is often described as one of the country’s gastronomic hotspots and in his experience Chris thinks it’s a fantastic place for someone who likes food and drink: “I haven’t done a fantastic deal of travelling but, compared to the other areas I have visited, Ludlow will always be special. It isn’t just the Michelin Stars, it is the range of food. There is Mr. Underhill’s, Hibiscus and Dinham Hall Hotel, Chang Thai and Koo, plus Indian, Chinese and Japanese food, pizzas, fish and chips, and of course all the cafes, bistros and pubs. Added to that there is the local produce market, butchers, bakers and all of the festivals including the internationally well-known Food Festival every September.”

All of us have our favourite celebrity Chefs but Chris thinks anyone who is successful in such a competitive industry deserves a fantastic deal of praise: “I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make a success of a catering business, it is a very competitive industry where a lot of people fail.”

With the government and the media place increasing significance on a healthy diet Chris is keen to express the importance of food in our everyday lives: “Food is the main thing that we place into our bodies; therefore it makes us what we are. It is vital that we remain healthy, and eating well can help everyone. Educating children about eating well will help to break the cycle of overweight parents bringing up overweight children.”

Chris started out doing a course at Shrewsbury College of Technology and he thinks this is a excellent grounding for anyone interested in a career working with food: “Start young and work hard. Getting qualified at College is vital, but if you are willing to work hard you will always have a job. Don’t be over-confident, confidence is a excellent thing but over-confidence is something employers don’t like. In this trade you are always learning, no-one knows it all.” In the future Chris aims to have his own restaurant: “I want to go into business, but the more experience I can get before doing so, the better.”

When you next go out for a meal remember, it’s not just the head chef who works hard to produce the delightful food in front of you. There’s a whole team of people working tirelessly to make the wonderful food and special atmosphere present in the areas top restaurants.



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