Executive Head Chef
The Kia Oval
Kapil Kaushik is an award-winning and creative chef of Indian origin, who has trained and mentored many apprentices during his five seasons as Executive Head Chef at The Kia Oval in London. Having worked across a breadth of catering establishments, here he gives his guidance on the personal qualities and approach needed to succeed as a chef.
What qualities should a junior chef display?
You need to be committed, focused, hard-working, and have a positive attitude towards learning. Think about where you want to be in five years’ time. Most of the head chefs and executive chefs today have succeeded because they aimed for it and never stopped learning.
What’s the best way to progress?
Make notes, listen carefully and don’t be scared to ask questions. You should set your goals and be focused because our industry is big. I’m not saying you need to put in 14-plus hours a day, but I’d be very happy if you gave 10-12 focused hours daily. Once you’re focused enough and you know what you want to do, then you can use platforms like Pinterest and Instagram to watch chefs all around the world.
How can young chefs stay ahead?
Be aware of new trends, look out for upcoming industry techniques, and, if possible, be part of conferences and shows – they’re all around the country nowadays. Challenge yourself by putting your name forward in competitions. There’s no harm in entering and losing. If you don’t have a willingness to compete, you’ll never learn, and, I believe you learn more when you lose. Also, go out and try different cuisines and restaurants. Be aware of what’s happening around you.
What will be your message as a mentor at The Fresh Careers Fair?
I want everyone to go knocking on doors and to pursue opportunities, rather than sitting back and waiting. Yes, you might have rejections but once you have that opportunity you can hold it tight, work hard and show what you want to become. I also want people to be open-minded – don’t shut yourself off from working in different establishments – and to ask questions. Remember, we’re there as mentors to help you. In our industry our biggest strength is the people – not just one person. It’s about the whole team, so utilise them.
Will you be recruiting at the event?
Yes! We’re really eager to take on three or four fresh faces to train. The Oval is a seasonal venue, so our structure is very different to hotels or restaurants. We don’t have a lot of permanent jobs but every year we place advertisements for commis chefs, chefs de partie, etc. Youngsters coming out of college should look out and apply. If you have a willingness to learn and to give your best, we can train you in the skills. We just need the right attitude.
How should a newcomer approach the interview process?
Come along with a positive attitude. Approach any hospitality establishment and don’t be shy. Unless you come to an interview, you won’t know whether you have a chance or not. Don’t be too scared of rejection and failure.
What impresses you?
Commitment. I want my apprentices to learn, remember and graft now because that will help in the future and make you a stronger chef. So, be committed and respectful to others. Even if you’re doing a small job, you’re an important part of the team.
How did you become Executive Head Chef at The Kia Oval?
I worked my way up the ladder from being an apprentice. My career started at a hotel college in Mumbai, India. From there, I worked in various hotels and a big club in Delhi where I gradually came up from a commis chef level to sous chef. Later, I moved to the UK and worked in different restaurants, including one with chef Tony Singh, plus hotels. When I became executive chef at Murryfield Stadium in Edinburgh I realised stadia hospitality was where I wanted to be. So, when I got the chance to work at The Oval, I took it.
How many people do you feed?
At a test [cricket] match, we cater for 15,000-18,000 people at The Oval, which is a staggering number. It’s not easy. It’s challenging, but it’s rewarding when you’ve fed 18,000 happy people. I find it motivating and heartening.
How big is your team?
Cricket is a seasonal sport and our team reflects that, but The Oval also provides hospitality for conferences and business events. On a daily basis we have 10-15 chefs, and on a match day that rises to 80-100 chefs working across 18 kitchens to cater for the public, as well as 1,200-1,500 staff. The Oval has three on-site restaurants; one carvery, one à la carte, and one rosette-style restaurant.
What’s the best thing about your job? And the worst?
The best thing is the people. I meet a lot of diverse people, including guests and my own team from whom I learn both good and bad things – the learning never stops in our trade! The hardest part is finding the right people. Sadly, there aren’t always that many skilled people available. There’s a big gap right now, so it can be hard to find the right skill-set to deliver the quality of service we require. Unfortunately, most students are only educated about restaurants or hotels, and they’re not given enough knowledge about the many opportunities in the banqueting, conference and stadia hospitality industry.
Why do you like stadia hospitality?
I like it because of the challenge presented by the size of the venue and the number of people. I like dealing with big numbers, and, personally, I like to challenge myself in terms of presenting and delivering good food. Also, stadiums have a certain history and I want to be part of that history.
The Fresh Careers Fair is the recruitment event for the fresh produce, retail, foodservice, hospitality, and wholesale sectors, plus their related service suppliers.
Any organisation looking to attract the next generation of food and drink professionals by taking part in the 2018 edition on 8 March in London at The Kia Oval, should email Linda Bloomfield.