‘In the Kitchen’ with Gary Hunter
Gary Hunter has led an incredibly successful career inspiring the next generation of chefs to develop their skills and talents. For our latest ‘In the Kitchen’ we wanted to go behind the scenes and discover Gary’s thoughts on driving talent in hospitality, as well as learn what it’s like to work in a kitchen with him.
Tell us about your current role and career history
My current role is the Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway. I first started working here over 20 years ago as a pastry chef lecturer and worked my way to becoming the head of pastry, and then head of culinary arts before taking on the role as head of school for hospitality, culinary arts and business. Another job title which I am proud to own for the last 18 years is UK Chocolate Ambassador for Callebaut. This job involves travelling the UK and across the globe to teach chocolate and developing techniques. It’s inspiring to travel to new places, delivering classes and seminars, whilst developing new ideas as there’s always a real buzz around the artisan skill of chocolate and patisserie. I’ve also published seven books which are aimed at chefs who want to reach the top of their career.
Describe what it’s like to work in your kitchen
Some may say I am a nightmare in the kitchen! Everything has to have its place and be in the right location and condition. It’s important to me that everything is incredibly tidy and hygienic as we prepare and cook. Before I do any type of cooking everything needs to be immaculately organised, ‘mise-en-place’ is a big thing for me, and outside of the kitchen too. I like a traditional kitchen with a good ergonomic workflow, however, I love the opportunity to discover and use new technology.
Tell us more about your approach to food
Seasonality and provenance of ingredients are the most important elements for me. I’ll be looking for incredibly fresh and high-quality ingredients, but I do have an open mind about discovering new types of food, especially when on my travels around the world. One of the things I love most is learning about different cultures and foodservice. Earlier this year I travelled to India for the first time and was completely bowled over by what I experienced. You take a little bit about what you learn from each location including its ethos, social scene around hospitality, culinary skills, how to eat food and how to share it. It’s almost like there is a special language around food that transcends around the world.
Why did you choose to work in the sector you work in?
I chose to work in education because I found it was something I was good at. Being able to impart knowledge and skills to others is one thing that I have always been passionate about. Even when working as a head chef in industry, I spent a lot of time training others and so it just made sense to do it full time. However, it took a colleague of mine to suggest that I should look into it, and that comment made me think about my options and I’m glad I made the move.
What do you love most about this sector?
It’s about being able to inform knowledge and pass new skills to people that make a positive change in their life. I love to see that ‘lightbulb moment’ when you are teaching and you see something just click the switch inside someone. My aim is always to create enthusiasm about culinary skills. It’s not just about teaching a student how to complete a skill, it’s about them knowing how to use it, being inspired by it and seeing how that talent can benefit others.
What is your biggest hope for the future for chefs?
That we can find a way of inspiring a new generation of youngsters that want to be chefs and then find a way of ensuring the new crop of chefs stay within it. There are some brilliant young chefs around at the moment and we want them to stay in hospitality and have a successful career that inspires others.
Tell us about your career highlight
I have so many career highlights, such as working with some of the best chocolatiers in the world who are so inspirational. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do so many amazing things if it wasn’t for my career at Westminster Kingsway, so I’d have to say that working here is my true highlight.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a chef?
Get a really good education and training in culinary arts at the best culinary school you can. Find a strong mentor who will stay with you as a critical friend and open doors to you. That person will give you important advice and feedback as and when you need it to continue to move forward in your career.