Darren Wright began his career in a small working kitchen and he wouldn't have it any other way. As head chef at Chillingworth Road, Darren says he understands the value of starting small, shadowing your mentor and learning on the job. Here, we talk rookie mistakes, the shift in the hospitality industry and why sustaining the right can-do attitude is a chef's most powerful tool.
Tell me about your involvement with the Ora King NextGen programme?
“This year, I’ve been asked to mentor. It’s a two week work experience-type scenario, for young chefs. During the programme we’ll cover everything from products and recipe development to plating up and finish with presenting two dishes.
Programmes like this are hugely important, they give chefs a chance to get out there. Guys like Michael Meredith are inspiring like that, it inspires young chefs to be better and to continue learning.”
Describe your experience of the structure or hierarchy of a contempoary kitchen?
“There is a hierarchy, definitely. I worked really closely with a head chef when I was first starting out – I worked in a really small kitchen. It was just him and I and that was great. I think training has changed a lot, there is not such a big emphasis on industry hours, not like there used to be.
There’s a lot more focus on theoretical learning. This industry is not for everyone, people learn in different ways.
What lessons or advice do you think young chefs could gain from mentoring programmes, like Ora King NextGen?
"With the younger generation of chefs, you do notice that some people do develop quicker, some are more theoretical learners and others will be more practical – it varies from person to person.
Some wont retain information like others. For me, I find that you learn from your own mistakes. Don’t think you’re too big for your boots too early, some of the young guys might. I had a young guy working with me for two years, his knife skills weren’t the best, but he didn’t want to be in the kitchen cutting carrots and onions.
It is a tough environment, absolutely. Especially if you’re working somewhere that’s incredibly particular. So, in some ways, yes, the younger chefs do struggle with that authority – but others dont."
Any parting words of wisdom you've acquired throughout your career?
“You’ve got to be very diplomatic. We say to our young guys, ‘if you make a mistake, learn from that mistake and correct it.' It’s all very P.C these days, dare I say it. If they get a bit of a growl – it’s not personal.”
This is the second year of the Ora King NextGen programme here in New Zealand. To learn more about this inspiring initiative, see here.
The Ora King Next Generation (NextGen) mentoring programme aims to nurture future stars of the culinary world. The programme will endeavour to provide New Zealand’s young chefs with the rare opportunity to work with some of the country’s most established culinary masters.
"I find that you learn from your own mistakes. Don’t think you’re too big for your boots too early." – Darren Wright.