You just can’t get the staff…or can you?

It’s all well and good to decide that you’re going to start a business, but it has to be said that realities of becoming an employer can be quite difficult. And that’s before you actually employ anybody at all. As a restaurant we might expect to employ about 30 people under all sorts of terms for all sorts of roles. There are the really crucial ones – head chef, front of house manager – without whom we’d sink like a mafia hit – and there are also the less apparent but no less important other members of the team, like the wonderful individual who covers three hours of Sunday lunch rush.

So, let’s look at the logistics. In a town as short on jobs as Oxford purportedly is, it can be difficult to get applicants for even the best jobs we have to offer. The main bulk – the waiters and waitresses and whatnot – are still being processed, so we’ve only got the core four for now – but they are certainly a great start. To take you back to the beginning – our head chef position was a great offer and we endured months of torpor before finally, we were struck down and overjoyed by a sudden rush of top quality applicants. Prior to that Josh was waking up every morning and wondering whether it was finally time to rush through that NVQ so we could have a semblance of a chef and Hannah was having anxiety dreams at the possibility of having to study the terroirs of France (darlink) as well as how to tap a cask of top quality British beer as the general manager position was just as slow to gain attention.

Getting the applicants was only the beginning of the test.

Those that made it to the final round of the chef interviews had met with no fewer than five of us at least four times, sent in sample menus (with cost estimates) and been grilled on every conceivable subject from their feelings-on-working-with-thousands-of-students-to-improve-sustainability-in-the-hospitality-industry to, well, grilling (sorry). We discovered that picking staff was very much a different matter than simply selecting the best CV. We had some great technical chefs that left us cold and one candidate who gave us a collective shiver of mistrust almost straight away.

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What were we looking for exactly? For front of house some of it is obvious: of course you want someone who knows their wine, their beer, their food as well as a really good grasp of maths and management. Those practical skills are an asset, undeniably (and in our eventual selections we’ve come up trumps), but what we’re looking for is someone to host the space: to be the personality of our restaurant. Personality may seem to matter less for a chef – we’re all well enough familiar with the screaming sociopath from Hell’s Kitchen – but outside of the world of reality television world we needed someone who would be dedicated, cook the stunning food, and also engage with us, the volunteers involved and the vision of the whole project. Personality aside, they did also have to prove reliable; candidates fell by the wayside as they vanished into thin air during the process, with phone numbers going dead and emails bouncing. It was all very Willy Wonka. Ish.

So, with all of this running through our heads, who did we choose in the end?

Well, here, meet our fantastic team: Carl is our very own Alain Ducasse (and for those of you who know your chefs, he’s Ducasse because he’s got more integrity than Gordon Ramsey and less science than Heston Blumenthal and does a good classic great). Hubris aside, Carl’s a great cook, can talk about food and growing your own from dawn to dusk and could not be more personable. Carl has come to us via Oxford’s own Branca and Magdalen Arms and all manner of places across London.

Carl is to be backed up by a sous chef of exceptional pedigree, but I can’t reveal the name for another couple of days, in case his boss gets angry with us. Patrick is our general manager. Responsible for booze, conviviality (the two are, in fact, distinct) and making sure we offer the best service in town (once again; more on this next time), Patrick comes to us via Kiss FM, Red Bull, some of London’s top gastro-pubs and more recently, his very own lovely place in the country. Supporting Patrick is Sean. Another of last year’s graduates (it’s not been two years yet, not for at least a couple more weeks), Sean was born into hospitality and brings a top-flight hotel service pedigree.

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We still need plenty more bodies, but at the very least we have a head. And it’s got brains and beauty. Until next time.