04 Mar

I remember the lightbulb moment for me when I decided to set up a consulting business. All the years I spent in the thick of the industry and all the mistakes I made along the way   (and learned from). Plus,  I enjoyed a few successes under my belt too. So, this seemed like the natural thing to do.   

My close friends and peers in the industry, however, were full of tales of woe and had many questions.  

Why make the change? 

You love to cook and love being in kitchens; why throw that all away? 

Won’t you miss being personally involved? 

Would you go back? 

Did you need an easier life? 

You are good at coaching and inspiring your team; surely you don’t want to lose that skill? 

Don’t you need qualifications to do that?

Do you know anyone who did great work as a chef and is now a consultant?  

These are some of the questions I was (and sometimes still am) asked regarding my leap of faith into the world of coaching and consulting.

Before I break them down, let me say that I absolutely love what I do. I am as driven and dedicated to my craft now as ever before. Knowing I can make a difference in other people’s businesses through my own is, by itself, enough to keep the fire and passion alive. Then there is the deep-rooted love for the industry itself, the people, the food, the wine, the energy, and the spirit of giving. The list goes on, but I’m sure you get the gist.

Let me break these questions down for you.  

Why make the change? 

The truth is simple. It started by answering calls for help. I loved the results I achieved. So, it went from there.  In all honesty, stating the fact that I was single-handedly becoming a coach and consultant was one of the most scary things I have done. I know my craft (and I am still an avid learner) and am comfortable there; learning about running your own business is a whole different ball game, and I was a super novice. It was turbulent, to say the least. Now it amazes me that people might approach me for business advice even outside my realm of expertise.

You love to cook and love being in kitchens, why throw that all away?   

I have thrown nothing away. I have only gained. The more clients I have worked with, the more kitchens and restaurants I cook in. At the core of my business, next to coaching, I do dish development, menu design, and build bespoke recipes to work for my clients. Thus, I never had the feeling of being deprived of doing what I set out to do. So, worry not, my friends; I can be involved in the design stages or in the thick of the service.

Won't you miss being personally involved?

I take on what I call a holistic approach. I rub shoulders with the chefs to break down the initial barriers. I bring the teams together to work as one. The way I have had amazing results is to become part of the business. A proven system may still need tweaking to truly be successful for the individual. I get to the core of this by submerging myself deeply. 

I have often been asked when talking about a client, “Is that your business, as you keep saying we and our?”. Sorry about that; that is true. I can’t help myself. I must feel and treat it like mine, like I am a part of it. I care deeply.  The hardest thing I find with my business is sometimes giving it back, walking away, and the fact that, as a consultant, you should often find yourself making things so smooth that you are no longer needed. 

Thankfully, in some cases, I have become a mentor to the business. Mentoring and maintenance, I call it (such a wiz with words!). I stay involved at the owner’s request. Keeping menus fresh or being on call to keep inspiring. I love longevity.

Would you go back? 

I did! I first set off on my consulting journey in 2011. I found myself back full-time at the helm of the kitchen before the year was up. I took on the position of chef patron at The White Oak in Cookham. I think Henry, the owner, knew more than I did that I had to be tied to the stoves for a bit longer. He was, of course, right. I loved every minute of my three-plus years there. We scooped up great recognition and a few awards. Not bad work, but time to get back on track Dixon.

Looking back, maybe I wasn’t yet mentally prepared, and Henry’s offer was too good to turn down. In early 2015, I reminded myself of the lightbulb moment and resigned from my position. The same day, I was contacted to consult on a new opening in the south of Spain. HOLA! I guess someone is watching out for me.

This same question of would I go back still raises its head but is usually followed up by, Call on me first if you do decide to! That is nice to hear, I must admit, but my focus has shifted now to helping others.

Did you need an easier life?   

Seriously! I guess you, the people asking that question, do not know me at all.
I have, throughout my career, been guilty of biting off more than I can chew. “Ready, fire, aim” kind of attitude. I love a challenge. Iwas head chef at 23. There was no way I was ready to fill that position. I did it, I smashed it, and yes, it nearly killed me physically and mentally. I was, however, all the stronger for it. 

I learned very quickly every single day. The same attitude is still with me; I’m just a lot wiser, and I keep my learnings with me to share. Without the fire, drive, and passion in you, how can you be trusted to inspire, enthuse, and lead others? So “easy life” was not and is not a thing. Recently, I received a call from a friend asking for advice on how to be a consultant just like me. “I want an easy life,” he said. My advice to him was to keep the pay packet he is currently earning from his employer. Or did I just tell him to f**k off? I can’t remember, but I think my view was clear

You are good at coaching and inspiring your team, surely you don’t want to lose that skill?  

That skill is ever-improving. Only now will I get to inspire many more people. I have had clients overseas, so as well as coaching them, I have the great privilege to learn from different cultures and food styles. This only ramps up my passion for this industry.

Don’t you need qualifications to do that?   

I guess behind my way of thinking, the 40 years in the industry and living with a growth mindset leave me well qualified. Certainly experienced. As I mentioned earlier, despite the failures I learned from, there are many successes to build on. But let’s stop at that. As I have said, I have a growth mindset. I always search for greater learning. I have business advisors, mentors, attend seminars, help host seminars, am active in business groups, study, and the list goes on. Next on my list is an MBA.

Do you know ANYONE who did great work as a chef and is now a consultant?  

That one is easy. Yes, I do!

Let me mention a few that I think do an amazing job and whom I greatly respect. I have no problem recommending other quality consultants. Each has a different skill set than mine. I love sharing knowledge with these guys; they are true masters in their field.   

Nigel Humphries   

Nigel runs his own company, Profitality Ltd. You won’t find this true gem of a man on any website or social media platform. He is like a silent assassin. Nigel is one of my closest friends and mentored me through my early days of consulting. We have even worked on some projects together with incredible results. He now mainly looks after hotel groups and has improved profits and standards for so many businesses.

John Benson Smith

I am a great believer in teaching through sharing stories. John is a master of this, and I could listen to him talk for hours. He has a calming way about him, but underneath he is a focused and professional businessman.
John has taken on some huge tasks, such as football stadiums and hotel groups in the Middle East. He knows his craft inside out. From food to systems and kitchen design, he is a no-nonsense, get-results kind of guy. I was lucky enough to work alongside John at a football club. We designed a new concept together for the private boxes. We came up with great food and thought outside the box (pun intended) around different engaging hospitality ideas.

Stefan Cosser

Icelandic and as cool as f**k! Stefan ran the development kitchen for Heston Blumenthal in Bray for many years. His knowledge, as you can imagine, is vast. He has, of course, in-depth scientific knowledge as to what makes food work, but what is most important is that he can show you ways to make great food and systems work for you. He simply gets it. He always has his finger on the pulse as to what is going on in the food scene.

Stefan often gave me advice on different ways to approach certain recipes, simplifying the process and even making me streamline my approach for future menu items. A true Gentleman!

More 'Tales, Rants and Recipes' coming soon!                                 

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