Stephen Holland is Executive Sous Chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort. In part two of his interview with Way out West, he talks about the importance of treating each day as an education, what he’s learned about the lesser known parts of working in a kitchen, and the mentality required to be a young chef.
It wasn’t long after his years spent travelling that Stephen Holland found himself working at one of the most striking venues in Northern Ireland.
‘I came home from New Zealand in 2010 and started working at the Lough Erne with Noel McMeel, who I’d previously worked with in Castle Lesley. It’s an amazing place to work, such an amazing property, and I drive in every morning and think I’m very, very lucky to work here. I work with great people, with great chefs in the kitchen, and with great food.’
His time there has included some unbelievable experiences, none more so than when the Lough Erne hosted the G8 summit, attended by, amongst others, President Obama. However, despite finding himself at such a premier location, Stephen wasn’t content to sit back on what he’d learned so far. Never one to rest on his laurels, he began studying a degree course at South West College in Enniskillen.
‘The degree course helped me understand how to organise myself and how to organise people around me. It was essentially personal and professional development for me as a person and as a chef. There’s so many aspects to this job other than cooking, you have to look at it like any other business. I was very lucky that when I went back to South West College, to the Enniskillen campus, I was given the opportunity to gain that knowledge, bring it back to my workplace and put it into practice.’
‘My job as a chef has changed over the years. It’s gone from being primarily hands on cooking, to involving a lot of management duties, be it managing people, budget, food or materials. There’s a management element to everything in the kitchen. You might think that blue roll, the tin foil and cling film is the type of thing that just comes through the back door and no one has to worry about it, but there’s a budget for all those things, and it’s all about maintaining that budget and not overusing it. Food wastage too: you have to always be thinking about how to counteract food wastage. There’s a lot to do, but I’ve enjoyed learning that side of working in a kitchen.’
With so much more to think about than getting to the kitchen in time for service, Stephen’s days can be long, and are filled with various responsibilities.
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‘I usually start sometime between ten and twelve in the morning. I come in, check the business that is on our books: the numbers in house; our VIP arrivals and departures; the bookings for different restaurants; and the team duties for the day ahead. Making sure we have the staff allocated where they need to be, and that we have our food allocated correctly is obviously crucial. All that can take up to five or six hours, and then obviously when service starts it gets more hands on.
‘I like to oversee everything to make sure that our customers are getting a one hundred percent dining experience. We’re very passionate that each customer always receives top quality food and service and in order to do that you have to set standards, and that’s effectively what my job is, setting standards amongst our team, so that the five star experience it felt by our guests.
‘My job has a whole different scope now, it’s not just primarily about cooking. It’s about organisation of a kitchen and the kitchen management side of things, which I learn about every day. That’s one of the great things about being in a proactive job, if you’re learning every day you maintain great focus, which is why I’m still here eight years later and still think it’s a fantastic place to work.
If learning every day is the case for an experienced chef like Stephen, it’s doubly true for emerging chefs still new to the industry. Every day is a school day, but Stephen is adamant that for those who want to put in the hard work, there has never been a better time to get involved in the industry.
‘I think for young chefs it’s not always about looking at your skill set, it’s about looking at your attitude. If your attitude is right, if you’re proactive and willing to learn, if you’re willing to take criticism and learn from it, then your career will flourish; if not, a young chef will find it hard, to integrate into a team, to integrate new skills.
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‘If you have the right attitude, nine time out of ten you will succeed at anything, and to work in kitchen so much of that attitude is about having a team mentality. You can’t just think of yourself, you have to think about the team you’re a part of and the team you work with. In catering, education doesn’t stop when you leave college, it’s all about lifelong learning, and I’m very lucky that I still have the hunger for that, and I try to pass it on to all the students that come into our kitchen. I want to make sure that they’re fed with the right information, with the knowledge and skills that I have, so that one day they can be a head chef, and repeat the same thing.’
‘Young chefs entering the industry today have an open book. It’s up to them to fill that book with information, so I’d say get to the best place possible to do that. Here at the Louch Erne Resort we have such a great relationship with the South West College, so much of our team is from South West College, and that’s a great testament to the lecturers who know exactly what the standards are and what local chefs need.’
‘When you get a young chef from South West College you know that they’ll have their basic skills covered, which means that their experience with us can improve them very quickly. After that, in today’s industry, there’s no end to opportunities.’
If you’re interested in studying catering at South West College, you can find out more about available courses here.