Al Brown: Freelance Chef, Author and TV Presenter
Al is co-owner of the award winning restaurant "Logan Brown", with Steve Logan.
How many years have you been in the industry?
I’ve been in the hospitality business for 20 years.
What influenced you in pursuing a career in hospitality?
I genuinely liked cooking from an early age. I did some cooking at home on the family farm in the Wairarapa and I liked baking - I was a pikelets and ginger crunch boy!
How did you start out in the restaurant business?
I became a chef after being a waiter. I used to love hanging out in the kitchen because the guys looked like they were having the most fun. They also got to play with fire, knives and lots of beautiful product. I trained at the New England Culinary Institute then worked at restaurants in North America and Europe before coming home to New Zealand. In 1996, my great friend Steve Logan and I opened Logan Brown Restaurant in Wellington.
What do you love about cooking?
In cooking you use every sense -taste, touch, sight, smell. You can even hear if the scallops cooked behind you by the sous-chef haven’t been seared properly on high enough heat because the sound is different.
How many people work for you?
Logan Brown employs 35 people , and I have two people working for me in my freelance business.
How do you help your staff build their career and progress in hospitality?
We look at Logan Brown as one of the finest hospitality universities in the country. It’s a place to learn. We have an internal induction programme and regular appraisals. We’ll send people on courses if the course will be useful to the person and the business. We encourage and support the staff at Logan Brown. Being at the front desk as the maitre ‘d is an ambition for both the kitchen and front of house staff. If you have ‘maitre ‘d’ at Logan Brown on your CV, it’s a pretty good door-opener.
Over the years, a dozen staff have moved from being a dishwasher to being in charge of the kitchen at night. Logan Brown staff have to be prepared to learn, understand the business and be able to multi-task.
What makes a successful restaurant?
Team work delivers success. When we won the Cuisine magazine 2009 Restaurant of the Year Award, it was about all the people who work at Logan Brown and our suppliers. From the fishing boat captain who we buy our fish from to Monty’s fruit shop in Cuba Street where we buy our fruit and vegetables, everyone shared in the Award. They all contribute to making the restaurant what it is and share our vision.
Guest expectations are high, especially from the visitors from out of town. They know we are the Award winner so we have to deliver on their expectations.
There’s a huge feeling of achievement after a busy night with the team. It can be magic for customers and the restaurant to see a well-oiled team at work. We have one house - not back of house (kitchen) and front of house (waiters, maitre ‘d, bartenders). The one whole team makes the restaurant work.
The restaurant industry is like a bag of ‘licorice allsorts’ – multi-everything! It’s even multi-cultural – you might have a dishwasher from Sri Lanka who cooks the staff a national dish for their pre-opening dinner. Working with all sorts of different people makes it very interesting.
What is the best part of a career in food & beverage/hospitality?
It’s exciting. Kitchens are exciting. A bit dangerous, theatrical and there’s a real buzz. It’s amazing how you can cook for a hundred people in a short timeframe and serve your guests something special. It’s like giving them a present on a plate.
What was the biggest challenge you faced on your journey to reaching your goals?
Balancing family and work is the main challenge. Hospitality is a young person’s game. As you get older you need to think of commitments other than work.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to work in hospitality?
Try and get work experience in a good workplace to see if it’s the career for you. Even ask to watch so that you can observe what goes on. For example, there are no chairs in the kitchen, could you handle standing much of the day? Space in a kitchen is tight, watch the teamwork or observe the workings of a café by sitting there as a customer - watch the barista, watch what happens.
There are so many career pathways available in hospitality. If you work hard and are willing to learn, opportunities will open up for you.