Life as an Executive Chef: Interview with Robert Newman of Dalmahoy Country Club
We recently caught up with Robert Newman to discover the secrets to his success and his advice for those starting out in the hospitality sector. As he succinctly puts it, “It’s not gonna be easy, but life isn’t easy”.
It certainly ain’t easy being Executive Chef at a luxury country club. Early to rise, late to bed and a schedule crammed with fires to fight (mercifully these are usually of the metaphorical kind only). With customers to please and a staff rota to fill, it’s a miracle that Robert Newman gets to see his young family at all. He makes it work though, and what’s more he’s adamant that the rewards more than make up for the sacrifices that come with the top job at Dalmahoy Country Club.
What inspired you to work in the hospitality sector?
I used to help out with my grandad’s pubs as a kid and before long found myself involved in the food industry, a passion that’s turned into a lifelong career. When I was starting out, I didn’t have any expectations. I just knew it would be hard work but also fun so I vowed to enjoy myself and to embrace the learning curve. I started out in London, working as a chef in a restaurant in Old Bond Street, before progressing to various kitchens across the country until I finally became Executive Chef at Dalmahoy Country Club.
What sort of sacrifices have you had to make along the way?
Every day is a sacrifice. I’ve had to sacrifice time with my family, missing birthdays and Christmases. You have to sacrifice a lot, but there are certainly rewards that come with the job too, such as the sense of satisfaction that comes after a busy shift and a job well done.
What’s a typical day like for you?
On a typical day, I’ll come in, organise rotas, make sure staff have everything they need, perform a quick maintenance check and have a sit down for a quick one-to-one with everybody. Then at half past one there’s a team meeting before everybody starts, where we’ll look at the business we’ve got for the next couple of days, identify any issues and attempt to rectify these. On average, I work 12-13 hours a day.
What are some of the pros and cons of the job?
The positives include getting to work with a great bunch of people and enjoying enormous job satisfaction in a creative industry. The biggest negative is missing my seven-year-old. Some days my work-life balance is spot on; on others it’s a struggle. Even when you’re on holiday you’re not really on holiday because people will phone you to troubleshoot issues or seek advice.
What are your greatest attributes as a chef?
Probably the fact that I’m brutally honest. You have to be in this job, especially with yourself. You also have to have eyes everywhere; you have to walk in every day and be capable of looking at the kitchen from a management point of view, not just as a chef.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the hospitality sector?
Staffing is always the biggest challenge. Hospitality is a hard trade and it’s fair to say there are cushier jobs out there. People watch TV and they think working in a kitchen is all sweetness and light, they don’t realise how much hard work is involved. Basically, your family is the kitchen. I see these guys more than I see my wife and kids.
What skills does it take to develop a career in hospitality?
It takes talent and hard work to make it. I can teach anyone to cook, but to be passionate about cooking? You can’t teach that. There are a lot of different nationalities who work under me – Spanish; Polish; Filipino – and we thrive on the camaraderie and the compliments we receive from happy customers. That’s what we’re here for.
To those just starting out, I’d say give it a chance. Hospitality can be a great career. It’s not gonna be easy but life isn’t easy. Stick in and you’ll learn some great skills and have some unforgettable experiences along the way.