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How I Became A Head Chef

14th June 2022

The Post: Executive Head Chef, Lough Erne Resort

The Post Holder: Stephen Holland

A life-long passion for food and cooking has guided Stephen Holland through his career as a Head Chef.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

My culinary career began at just 13 years old when I worked as a kitchen porter at a local hotel in Dungannon. From then on, I was determined to become a chef. I studied in South West College which was an amazing experience – I have very fond memories of my time there and the learning was second to none. In fact, I still use and practice many of the skills I learnt there today. Whilst studying at college I worked at the 5* Castle Leslie Estate.

After college I spent time travelling the world, where I experienced different cultures and spent time learning new skills. I always encourage any young chef to travel as much as possible. As a chef you have a world of food waiting to be discovered and amazing people behind the food to learn from – it really is an invaluable experience and helped me become the chef I am today – my travels are great inspiration for my dishes.

I started working at Lough Erne Resort 12 years ago and it has been an incredible journey, both professionally and personally. Not only have I cooked for world leaders including Barack Obama and David Cameron, but I also met my amazing wife here who also works at Lough Erne.

What was your favourite subject at school?

History was always my favourite subject in school, I take this after my father. I am fascinated by World War 2 and have visited Normandy which was a very surreal experience.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so, what did you study and where.

I studied at South West College in Dungannon and obtained NVQ Level 3 in Kitchen and Larder. I also have a degree in Tourism and Hotel Management.

How did you get into your area of work?

In my family one thing was certain, someone, either my mother or great aunt (who recently celebrated her 100th birthday) were always baking or cooking. Some of my best childhood memories involve picking rhubarb and fresh strawberries from the garden, whilst trying not to get stung by the bees and wasps, before following my mum into the kitchen where she would teach me how to make a rhubarb and strawberry tart. I suppose it has always been in my genes.

Is this what you always wanted to do

From the age of 13 my passion was to be a chef, I never questioned this path or desired to do anything different. The industry is extremely rewarding and filled with amazing people who produce and cook some incredible food and I feel privileged to be part of it.

My culinary career began as a kitchen porter and I didn’t realise it then but they are the most important people in any kitchen.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

Like any career, I would advise anyone wanting to become a Head Chef to upskill as much as possible. Hands-on experience is crucial for a career in cooking, you can experiment with balancing flavours and sharpening your knife skills at home but nothing is as important as hands-on experience in a high-pressure working-kitchen environment.
My current role also requires someone who has strong business acumen and can manage finances.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

To become a Head Chef there are different paths you can take. Personally, I believe the best route for any young chef is a combination of different things. Firstly, train at a catering college, this will give you the basic skills you need to succeed in the kitchen. Secondly, find yourself a role which will support you as you develop your skillset, this is paramount as it will enable you to become a better chef. Thirdly, surround yourself with the right people and you will get the right results.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

The most important skill is the ability to listen. I work with a diverse and multi-cultural team running a 5-star kitchen. We are a team and each person plays an important role in ensuring service runs smoothly. To ensure we deliver exceptional dishes every time, it is important that everyone listens and knows exactly what is expected of them. I always say the person who listens most in the room is also the smartest person in the room.

What does a typical day entail?

There is no typical day for a chef and that is something I love about my job. My role is very diverse – some days are spent speaking with our local suppliers, interacting with guests, and attending meetings whilst others are spent training the team and cooking in the kitchen – it really does vary each day.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best part of the job is working with great suppliers and promoting their fantastic products on our menu. At Lough Erne we have a simple philosophy – sourcing, preparing, and serving fresh food in season. We are fortunate to have so many outstanding brands right on our doorstep and it is important we support them and our local economy.

I always see a challenges as something I can overcome or improve on, I don’t see it as a negative. which is rooted in a simple philosophy – sourcing, preparing, and serving fresh food in season

Why is what you do important?

Food is linked to many of life’s greatest moments. It is often how we celebrate, commiserate, or catch up with each other. A plate of food can evoke feelings of nostalgia and happiness as it takes us back to a place or time. It can elicit a sense of joy and fulfilment.

Most of us have a favourite recipe that reminds us of a special memory. Put simply, food is more than a plate of nutrients, it is an intrinsic link to some of our most precious memories and moments. I feel privileged to be part of that, to provide dishes for some of the most important occasions in a person’s life.

As a chef I believe I have a responsibility to support our local suppliers, this is vital for both our local economy and our local tourism.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

Covid has had a massive impact on businesses across the world. During lockdown the Resort was forced to close and this had a massive impact on us all. However, we are thankful to be returning to some semblance of normality and on a more positive note, the hotel has never been busier which we are thankful for.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Have an open mind, never lose focus and be humble and hungry for success.

Describe your ideal day off.

Spending time with my wife Rachael and son Charlie. Family is everything to me. 

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