Chef Kandi Kim

The Butcher’s Block Barangaroo head chef Kandie Kim on running a kitchen, finding the right mentor and taking the time to learn.   

I signed out of my year 11 preliminary exams because I decided I wanted to be a chef. At first my mum wasn’t on board — she’s old school and strict, and leaving school was an unorthodox thing to do so it was hard for her to accept — but eventually she came around when she realised I was serious about it.

My mum is an incredible cook and I didn’t realise how much it influenced me when I was growing up. We grew up with nothing, so for her to make really, really delicious things was such a skill.

At the time, there wasn’t really a perception you could have an amazing career as a chef but I knew was going to do well because I wanted to succeed.

I found an apprenticeship within a week at the Quay Grand Hotel, a fine dining restaurant that gave me the advantage to learn and experience functions, bar and room service. It was really hard going into a fine dining environment like that, but a good kind of hard. I realised it’s not just about what you love; it’s all about being able to work with others really well. That’s helped me dramatically now that I’m running a kitchen.

The most important thing that needs to flow through all of the stations is motivation. It’s incredibly important to give constructive and positive criticism rather than adding a negative note. I had a sous chef who is so amazing, she’s such a strong woman; strict, but also very kind — she never yelled. I have a stern side but I make sure that I only use it when necessary. I thank both her and my mum for teaching me that.

And always lead by example. I don’t ask for any of my staff to do anything unless I’m prepared to do it myself. If I can’t work with my team, why the hell should they work with me?

The biggest challenge in the industry is the training provided and it’s apparent with the new generation coming in. Traineeships have decreased from four years to three years. That one year is so important because it’s when you learn to independently work. That year prepares you to work as a chef, to be treated like a chef, while allowing senior chefs to teach you.

This can be fixed with a great mentor. Learning from someone with quality experience can replace this. It’s really important who you choose to keep as a mentor. I chose to keep my first sous chef as a mentor, as well as Dan Rudolph [executive chef at The Butcher’s Block group]. I also trained under Peter Gilmore and he’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever worked with. He’s had a huge influence on me. His kindness has influenced the way I treat my kitchen, as has his creativity. You need to realise who you’re working with and make the most of it.

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