It’s one of the most high-stress industries around, but those who choose hospitality as a career can’t imagine doing anything else, writes Rachel Smith.
It’s no secret that hospitality can be a hard slog. Most in the business work long hours for slim profits—and never more so than now, with many restaurateurs, bar managers and chefs closing their doors due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Staying passionate about the industry amid such challenges is undoubtedly tough, but these five movers and shakers aren’t saying die just yet.
Chef + owner | Cooks Co-Op, Sackville
How do you stay upbeat when your business is affected by nearby bushfires, floods and a shutdown thanks to a virus—all in a matter of months? Chef Martin Boetz, who runs a sustainable produce farm and paddock-to-plate restaurant in the Hawksbury Shire, admits there have been a lot of challenges of late. “We may have to postpone events for now, but I’m passionate about keeping the community spirit alive,” he says. “There are so many people around here who crave good food, and if I can offer it, I will. We’re using our commercial kitchen to make curry pastes and cook curries and the locals have been hugely supportive of that; we’re selling lots and it’s keeping me busy and keeping us afloat. And when things improve people will want to get out, sit outside and eat restaurant-quality food in the sunshine and I’ll be here to welcome them to this beautiful part of the world.”
Chef + owner | Jordan Hartley Health
Working at Bennelong was a dream come true for chef Jordan Hartley, but a back injury and the gruelling pace led to mental health issues that forced her to think outside the box. Three years ago, she opened her own meal prep business and it’s going great guns, even during the coronavirus and raised supplier prices. “Why are chefs so passionate about hospitality? Frankly, I don’t think we’re very normal people,” she laughs. “Many of us have a bit of OCD or anxiety—we’re obsessed with the art of cooking, with creating something beautiful and putting it on a plate. We love to make someone happy with food, and often that’s all we’re good at. When I found out I could no longer work in fine dining, it was a blow—I was helping run the pastry team at Bennelong and absolutely hooked on the adrenaline rush. But for health reasons, I had to rethink what I was doing and that lead to my food prep business. The food’s the easy part; my passion now is delivering a really good service for my clients. I get a buzz from that, and from showing people you can change your career, still be in the industry but live a healthier life.”
Chef + owner | Bistro St Jacques
At the heart of Gary Prebble’s passion for hospitality is the ability to connect others. “I love that we can provide that time for people and families to talk, share, eat, have a little drink; I regard this time as quite sacred. It’s a sentiment found in so many cultures but I think the Italians, French and Spanish really take the art of the table to other levels! As a restaurateur, I stay motivated by getting fresh air, playing with my children, reading, eating as well as I can—which is hard when you’re serving others all day and night. Things have changed with the coronavirus and we’re developing an online providore home delivery service—hot meals, pre-prepared meals, salads, soups, items for the store cupboard. It’s my hope there’ll be some positives to emerge from this crisis, including a stronger sense of community and perhaps more appreciation for primary producers.”
Bar manager | Merivale
Bar manager Natasha has been in hospitality for as long as she can remember—and says while it’s a relentless job it’s also extremely rewarding. “Even the days I’m not on duty I can’t help ‘serving’ someone—in my own home or at a friend’s!” she says. “It’s become an inevitable part of my culture and nothing brings me more joy. I get such a buzz from working with a team and seeing them develop—and seeing guests become regulars, enjoying their experience. Covid-19 has recently put me out of a job and I never thought I’d be out of work in an industry that works around the clock. I think it’s time to reach out to others, remain positive, be each other’s support group and realise hospitality will come back—stronger than we know it.”
Chef + restaurateur | Hello Auntie
After being in hospitality for over 15 years, chef and restaurateur Cuong Nguyen says a passion for the industry is essential. “You need to love it, because there’s so much sacrifice—you sacrifice family time, personal time, and if you’re not passionate, it’s not sustainable,” he admits. “But that passion is also about people; creating a warm feeling for everyone who walks into your space. We train our floor staff to welcome customers like they were welcoming guests into their own home; our chefs to cook as if they are cooking for someone they love. The rush for me isn’t just creating tasty food; it’s creating an experience that makes people want to come back again, and it took me a while to learn that. I think the industry has changed in that we’ve learnt you have to look after your team more, and their mental health. And you have to be innovative. With what’s going on right now, we’re doing a lot of menu engineering and refining our delivery concept. I’ll be delivering takeaways myself to Marrickville customers! Just a nice way to say thanks for supporting us. And watch this space.”