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Executive Chef David Coutts talks about his career in the kitchen, working at The Runnymede on Thames and the food he just couldn’t live without.

How did your career in food begin?
My first ever job was picking raspberries in Christchurch, New Zealand. We were paid less than 30 cents per kilo picked, which didn’t include all the squashed ones! I went on to become a trainee chef in the Air Force, mainly working in the vegetable section. I’ve worked my way up in various restaurants since then, and have been at The Runnymede on Thames since 2009.

What does your job involve on a day-to-day basis?
It’s a combination of working in the kitchens, managing the logistics of running the kitchens and looking after my team. I check all our food orders have arrived for the day and that everything’s as expected. I liaise with colleagues to check what’s happening in all the different food outlets in the hotel the following day – which can include business conferences and weddings as well as the running of the restaurants – before placing the food orders for the next day. I often run The Lock Bar and Kitchen over lunchtime. Later in the day, I’ll often be responsible for sending the banqueting food for a private function in the evening. It’s very varied.

Have you ever had any kitchen disasters?
Early on in my career, I mistakenly seasoned chips with sugar instead of salt. This went on for half a service before I realised! No-one else seemed to notice though…

What responsibilities do you have as a more senior member of the kitchen?
On an overarching level, I play the primary role in designing the menus, which includes changing the menus with the seasons. I also put forward new ideas to the General Manager on inventive things we can do with our culinary offering and how the kitchens can run better. The Runnymede on Thames has an open-door policy like this, so ideas are very welcome. I’m also responsible for a large kitchen brigade so ensuring they are trained and working at a high level is an important part of my job.

What training opportunities are there for kitchen staff at The Runnymede on Thames?
We do lots of training and there’s a myriad of training courses we do, from e-learning to kitchen and classroom-based teaching. At the moment, five of my team are on a new apprenticeship training scheme to improve their skills. The course lasts for 18 months and assessors regularly come in to check their progress. Throughout the programme, they also go away on chef academy days, which is brilliant for their development. Typically, if there’s something a member of staff wants to learn, we’ll make it happen for them. And of course, most of the training in the kitchen environment is on the job. They come in, we crack on and learn as we go. More senior members of staff like myself and the sous chefs have done the Level 3 Food Safety Course too. My Senior Sous Chef, Paul Reader, took part in the Group Management Development Programme last year…and won!

What’s the latest food trend you love?
Sriracha sauce Is my current favourite. It’s a Thai hot sauce made from chilli paste, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. Southeast Asian cuisine is one of my favourites – my last holiday was to Cambodia, which was wonderful for inspiration.

How would you describe the working environment at The Runnymede on Thames?
It’s varied and busy with a good people culture. There’s a very flat hierarchy, which means everyone is approachable and new ideas are encouraged. It’s a great environment for progressing your career.

What advice would you give someone hoping to have a similar career to you?
Do your college training first and then find a job in a place with a decent reputation where you’ll be working with fresh ingredients. Always work with good people, as they will help you learn your craft the best.

What food couldn’t you live without?
Life would be a disaster without bread. Particularly fresh sourdough bread.

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