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Team players on the pitch and in the kitchen

Team players on the pitch and in the kitchen

by Clare Gazzard 09 October 2015

Whichever team you support, the Rugby World Cup has brought into sharp relief the importance of a strong team spirit. Chef Andy McLeish helps us assess the need for this both on the pitch and in the kitchen.

Although now may not be the ideal time to discuss English rugby (with the early exit from the World Cup still rather raw) it has highlighted the importance and need for a strong team mentality in both failure and success. Coping with highly pressured environments, last-minute finishes and tough critics… there are a surprisingly lot of parallels to the restaurant world.

A keen rugby fan, chef Andy McLeish of Kent’s Chapter One restaurant feels this all too keenly: ‘Definitely – in the same way great teamwork is necessary to win a game in rugby, it’s also crucial in running a professional kitchen to ensure the food is consistently good night after night.’ The key phrase is ‘great teamwork’; just as a try is dependent on a series of passes, so too does a finished dish rely on passing through the hands of many chefs, any slip up and the whole team needs to rally round in support. The mentality of a chef and player are not so far apart, and Andy says he would hire someone like England’s number ten, Owen Farrell, as a sous chef ‘because he’s young, enthusiastic, and his accuracy is spot on’. Having a calm head when baying crowds or hungry diners are waiting expectantly can make all the difference.

Andy developed both a love of cooking and of rugby at an early age, taking on catering studies as teenager while also playing for local teams. ‘I played rugby in school and college. However, there wasn’t as much opportunity to play then as there is now. There are now many more after-school clubs offering sports to kids.’ The change in this highlights another striking parallel; while Andy struggled to get into domestic science classes as a boy, girls have struggled to make it on to the rugby pitch. Schools and youth programmes are now crucial in getting more kids involved in these activities, regardless of their gender, and the England Women’s Rugby team have proven a huge success story and are the current World Champions, having beaten Canada in the 2014 final. The gender balance in the professional chef world is still rather uneven, but strong female chefs such as Clare Smyth and Angela Hartnett are carving a path for future young cooks, just as the players are shining a way for young schoolgirls.

Both careers as a professional sportsman and chef require dogged determination, drive and dedication. Despite losing a game, the team has to pick itself up for the next one. After a bad service, the kitchen must be ready to attack the next day’s. This can be hard to keep motivation going, so when asked how he would power up the English team, Andy claims his crispy roast pork belly dish would be perfect: ‘It’s high in protein and a real hearty dish, plus perfect for sharing.’ The recipe itself lends itself to sporting poetics – a slow nine hour roast before a final hot blast in the oven; the long, tense buildup followed by the fireworks on the pitch. The result? Hopefully beautifully tender pork with perfectly crispy crackling, and a flurry of quick passes, accurate kicks and triumphant tries.

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Team players on the pitch and in the kitchen


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