BEHIND THE PASS: Talking kitchens with top chef Hayden Groves

Hayden Groves, executive chef 1

Hayden Groves has more than 25 years’ experience working in commercial kitchens, currently as executive chef at BaxterStorey and consultant chef at Borough Market. He spoke to BRITA Professional for a special podcast series addressing efficiencies in kitchens. Here are his thoughts on catering equipment, food trends and the secrets of success.

On his path into commercial kitchens…

I suppose it was something that chose me as much as I chose it. I wasn’t very academic at school and cooking and hospitality is a trade that rewards those that could work hard and that was one thing I wasn’t shy of. My first job was in McDonald’s. Back in the day, I think you were 15 years and 10 months when you got your National Insurance card and that entitled you to go and work. So I knocked on the door of a new McDonald’s that was opening up in my home town of Hertford and said, “right, I’ll come and work Friday night and all day Saturday.”

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I worked 13 shifts — I can remember each and every one! And I attained my three stars — unfortunately they weren’t Michelin but it was the only time I’ve ever had three stars! It’s a huge global company that is successful because of the standards it has in place and there were things I learnt in those 13 weeks that I still look back on now.

On the way that kitchen environments have changed…

I think that kitchens have certainly changed somewhat since I started. It was a very boisterous environment — health and safety was making sure that you wrapped something in Clingfilm and tried to avoid getting cut or burnt. So it was an environment and an atmosphere that was quite boisterous. I would say that 25-plus years ago it was very much male-dominated and you had to push on and work harder, faster and tidier than anyone else and hold your end up, shall we say.

On his relationship with equipment and whether he has a knife he has used for years…

I think you have a knife that fits well in the hand but I never get caught up with it having to be something that’s sushi-grade with Japanese steel that is folded X amount of times on a full moon. As long as it’s sharp, as long as it’s clean and it fits well in the hand. And again, we have seen now that there’s a big focus on chefs and their knives but in lot of the kitchens I’ve worked, the knife’s on the table and someone might take your knife to use it and they don’t put it back and that’s heartbreaking.

Health and safety was making sure that you wrapped something in Clingfilm and tried to avoid getting cut or burnt”

I have always ensured that in the kitchens that I’ve ran the chefs have their own knives, there is no kitchen stock where you just go and pick one out. They all take respect and ownership of their own knives and they should do, they are tools of the trade.

On his preferences for servicing equipment…

In my role I am going into various businesses that are client driven, so one client might have an onsite maintenance team that has a screwdriver and a pair of mole grips and they’ll get you up and running. Another might have several layers of maintenance agreements and several hoops to jump through before they even place the call. And then it can be a week or so before somebody comes in and says, “oh, you need a new knob for that,” but he hasn’t got a new knob for it and you end up using your own pair of pliers to turn it on and off.

So there is no one-size-fits-all, but one thing I have realised very quickly is you look after your equipment. You keep it clean, you look after your filters, as in your air filters for pieces of equipment, your water filters, and they will look after you. Because the second that you’re not keeping a piece of equipment clean or you’re leaving it to run all day and it’s burning, it makes cleaning it a lot harder.

On key considerations when choosing kitchen equipment…

It is a combination of everything. People are cost-driven but there is an adage ‘buy cheap buy twice’. You look for a manufacturer’s warranty. If a manufacturer gives you the minimum standard of a year but somebody else says they’ll give you five years warranty, that’s a huge belief in that piece of equipment. Five years is a long time for a commercial piece of equipment. I don’t like too many moving parts, if it’s complicated they can get lost.

Also, ease of cleanliness. If it’s easy to clean and put back together then you are keeping on top of it. If you can’t get to those hard-to-reach bits, they are going to get clogged up and dirty, there’s grease in the filters and then the chef, or whoever it is, doesn’t look after it. There’s disrespect for that piece of equipment and it breaks down. I think it’s too difficult to say there is one clear consideration. But I do go with pieces of equipment that I am familiar with or I would recommend to the client to spec, but that is for each and every individual. They are sometimes Excel spreadsheet-driven and they’ll look to the bottom right, see a total and think about what they can shave off and that is not always right for the business.

On BRITA Professional research that suggests 56% of kitchen professionals think more space would make their kitchen more efficient and reliable…

If you have space you end up filling it, like dry stores or your freezer. If you have a freezer that is huge you’ll end up just filling it with more boxes than you probably need, more cases and mise en place. And there’s a high risk of that piece of equipment going down and all that stock going. If you don’t have much freezer space, you don’t fill it up — the same with your dry stores, the same with your kitchen. Often you find that if there’s lots of shelves you will put random stuff on the shelves rather than putting it away so space is important, but once you’ve got enough space then it’s enough.

On the pressure to follow food trends…

I think the customer votes with what the trend is and you write your menu accordingly. I think there is an adage, or certainly one in the kitchen or previous kitchens that I’ve worked and managed in, that flavour never goes out of fashion. And what does that mean? That means a beautiful steak and chips, chicken and chips, a vegetarian alternative or an amazing apple crumble, if it’s absolute simplicity and it’s delicious then it will always have a place on the menu.

Yes, you could point to the fact that your French-style duck breast with a garnish of confit leg that’s done as a croquette now is old-fashioned, that the duck has now got to be cooked tea smoked and miso glazed and this and that. But actually when you get down to it the reference point is what is the eating quality of that duck? Is it full of flavour? Does it deliver? I think there is a move certainly to simplicity, to flavour-driven four or five key ingredients that are just cooked with absolute clarity and finesse rather than confusion, and they all warrant their place on the plate.


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Andrew Seymour

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