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Blog : Passion - maybe it's an overdone word, but what else would you call it?


Passion - maybe it's an overdone word, but what else would you call it?

learnpurple's MJ Flanagan looks at lessons from some of the UK's top kitchens to define the key ingredient in any successful team.

I have often felt that 'passionate' is an overused word i.e. 'I'm passionate about my job' or 'I'm really passionate about customer service'. However, this month I trained the teams at The Fat Duck and Fifteen restaurants and saw how truly passionate teams can ensure profitability; and by following their lessons other businesses could achieve a better bottom line too.

At Fifteen (Jamie Oliver's project to offer a restaurant career to disadvantaged people), we gave the master chefs (senior trainers) training skills to help them develop their apprentices and junior chefs. They were driven, knowledgeable and genuinely loved food as well as being enthused about the company's mission. They talked about how they look forward to the food shipments from Italy; the smells, the taste and the quality of the products.

At the end of the course each chef was tasked with delivering a 20-minute training session about any subject they wanted and would be given feedback on their style. I learned how to make chorizo, how they grow vegetables and all about the olive oil they use (which incidentally is delicious and limited to 4,000 bottles per harvest and each bottle contained the olives from one entire tree). People were incredibly supportive of each other and the apprentices and were immensely proud of the teams they had helped develop.

By now we were getting on pretty well and so I was invited to attend the apprentices' graduation ceremony. It was inspiring to see how these young people had come from some very difficult backgrounds and very tough circumstances and have dealt with real challenges head on, and they explained how - without the help of the chefs, kitchen porters (yes that's right they did not take their KP's for granted like many in the hospitality industry), front of house and the whole of the Fifteen family - they would not have made it. This year they have managed to secure jobs in some of the most high profile hotels and restaurants in London including The Ritz. What was most impressive was Fifteen had closed their restaurant for the night so that every member of the 'family' from kitchen porters and cleaners to the main board (though sadly not Jamie) could celebrate in, not just the apprentices' success, but also the achievements of the group as a whole.

Over at The Fat Duck, Heston Blumental's legendary success and officially the best restaurant in the UK, we delivered 'Don't lock me in the walk-in' (performance management for chefs originally conceived to get them to move away from of throwing pans and imprisoning commis chefs in the walk in fridge - though of course that doesn't go on in the Fat Duck kitchens) and 'Manage as well as you cook'  a fast track leadership course for chefs.

It was fun! They were engaged, they questioned and were very honest about the challenges they face so we could give very specific and relevant training. I was given a tour of the kitchens, labs (where Heston, the alchemist, cooks up his latest headline dish) and their legendary cellars. Wherever I went the chefs were completely engrossed in their tasks, with one telling me this was the first time he had been allowed to make the 'aero chocolates' on his own and he wanted to get it just right (apparently only 7% are thought to be good enough to make it to the table). I was told they never have a shortage of recruits as so many want to work there even if only for a few months to gain experience. In fact, I was delighted to discover they had one of Fifteen's apprentices with them.

Both these restaurants, although very different in style and cuisine had many similarities. Here's my definition of the 'great eight':

  1. Both restaurants only used the highest quality products, which the chefs could get excited about
  2. Each person was committed to the success of the business and was extremely proud to be associated with the company
  3. Strong elements of teamwork and family ethos, which gives the employees a sense of security and safety
  4. Both organisations had clear and robust development programmes in place to ensure their teams not only had the technical skills they needed to succeed, but also the softer behavioural skills
  5. Both teams were empowered to come up with new ideas and recipes. They were listened to and believed in. This gave them a real vested interest in the success of the business
  6. There was strong leadership at each site - visible, hands on and leaders working to inspire and motivate their teams
  7. The vision and values of the business were strong and well communicated
  8. Both organisations actively sought ways to engage and motivate their people and clearly understood the importance of doing so

Both these restaurants are highly successful. Are they successful because they do all the above or can they do all the above because they are successful? Chicken or egg? It seems to me you can't have one without the other. When I tell people I trained the teams many said Oh bet that was a nightmare, a room full of chefs - how did you get them to listen to you? Actually, I never had a problem; they were a joy to train. Chefs have an innate desire to learn, to do better and (hurrah!) the drive to pass on this learning and expertise to others. This makes them some of the best leaders of any industry  from a bank to a retailer could learn from them. These teams oozed passion for the products, for the job and for the companies they worked for. Could you say the same about your team?

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