A career in cooking is often approached with an attitude fitter for a sprint than a marathon. Pushing yourself to the limit and working in kitchens that will look great on your CV but leave you drained and disenchanted are ingredients in a foolproof recipe for burnout, but some chefs play a different game.
Philip Hogan is one “the fortunate few”, the executive chef of the Broyage Bar and Bistro at the Hilton Dublin Kilmainham has 35 years of experience in the trade, almost all of them cooking for hotels both in Ireland and abroad and for him, the key to stay in top form in the food industry is a mix of passion and of being surrounded by the right people.
“I just love coming into work because I know I’ve got good people to work with”, he says, as he points out that many staff members at his restaurant have been on board for years.
As any person that has ever worked in hospitality will know, a kitchen that’s consistently able to retain its staff for the long term, from head chef to the kitchen porter, is a rare one.
“Being a chef is like being a priest, you have to love the job. I’ve seen lads come and go and change careers because if you don’t love the job, you’ll hate the kitchen and what you’re doing and you’ll hate your life.”
Philip began his career at his parents’ restaurant in Mullingar, and he recalls growing up “carrying around a dish cloth, helping from a very, very young age.” He developed a passion for cooking and went on to be the only one of six brothers who pursued it as a career, training in Athlone Institute of Technology.
His first job outside the Michelin recommended family eatery MacCloskeys Restaurant in Co. Clare. He reckons that while it was a modest venue with “eighties carvery type of food”, working with the head chef made a big impact on him.
He taught me about manners, about a regime and how to work hard. He was a fantastic leader and he taught me the importance of being on time, getting your work done properly, treating people with respect and all that.”
In the mid-nineties, Philip moved to London where he worked for prestigious hotel chains. By the turn of the millennium, he was ready to go back to Ireland and after climbing the ranks in London’s hospitality, he was hired as Sous Chef at the prestigious Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.
Philip’s first Head Chef position arrived in 2000, when he moved to cook for IBM with Eurostat Catering. He performed in the same role at the Hibernian United Services Club, the Carton House Hotel & Golf Club, the Bewley’s Hotel by Dublin Airport and the Connacht Hotel in Galway.
After a decade of intense work feeding hundreds of people a day, Philip took some time off to travel. “I wanted to experience Europe on my own, which was fantastic, a great experience.” After about a year, he was ready to return again, this time to take the lead at the Broyage Bar & Restaurant.
There, he has aimed to create an eclectic menu with broad appeal with zero compromise on quality. Aware that guests come from all over the world, he seeks to offer dishes “that can be enjoyed by everyone.”
He points out that chefs who run their own restaurants can be as eccentric or niche as they want but “coming to a hotel, you have to cater to many different people”, tourists, businessmen, workers from nearby offices looking for a quick lunch, they all have to leave delighted.
Cooking for Celebs and Royals
Among other projects that he has lead, Philip has fond memories of the time when he worked as head chef for Michael O’Leary’s 350 guest wedding. “We did it at his house in Gigginstown. Michael and his wife wanted local people, Mullingar people, to do the wedding for him, so he chose us”, he says.
“There weren’t too many celebrities…” Philip adds, admitting that he though there would be more famous VIPs at the party, but “the guy is so down to earth, it’s unreal.” He remembers a moment during the party when Michael popped up in the kitchen and was kicked out, “I didn’t know it was him, but he just smiled and walked out.”
Philip is also enthusiastic about the opportunities to meet high profile golf and rugby players he has had, but one of the biggest highlights of his career was to be commis chef for Princess Diana, “I didn’t get to meet her but I know we fed her.”
On the Challenge of Avoiding the Burnout
“The burnout is very hard to avoid to be honest”, Philip says and he laments that “things are actually getting more and more difficult for older chefs because the training that’s being given at the moment is very poor and it’s making our job as head chefs a lot, lot harder” as students’s over-reliance on senior staff often prevents them from working independently.
A lot of chefs coming from cooking schools don’t know their basics and their classics, they’re not being taught classics skills and dishes, and the French terminology, which is key in kitchens.”
However, while remaining on top of your game after decades in the industry is not an easy task, Philip has been wise enough to recognise how to pace himself. “The reason why I took a year out was to avoid the burnout, I was working serious hours, up to 80 hours a week and I had to take time out.”
He also considers moderation is crucial. “I’ve seen burnout, unfortunately, in many chefs around my age. A lot of them turned to drink. I’m lucky enough, I don’t drink, just a glass of wine with my meal or a bottle once a month with my wife.”
Since he got married 4 years ago, he has learnt to prioritise and to aim for an harmonious life-work balance. “It has taken a good woman”, he laughs and he mentions that he has a baby on the way.
Another way in which he finds a way to relax is playing golf. With a busy life and a family just about to get bigger, golfing is about the only hobby he has stuck to.
When asked with what personality he’d enjoy a round of golf with, after a few seconds, he mentions “the guy from Ghosthbusters, Bill Murray”, whom he met briefly at a competition in Scotland.
“I was standing there with a cappuccino in my hand, he was walking around saying hello to people and he grabbed the coffee, drank it and said ‘thanks buddy’ and then he took the hat from the girl next to me and walked out while she was like ‘what!”… he seems like the sort of guy you’d love a round of golf with.”
Learning to Trust your Team
One of the most important realisations for Philip, was how others are eager to take responsibilities and how important it is to delegate.”Before, I used to think the place would burn down without me, but it won’t, and it took me an awful long time to learn that.”
A leadership based in mutual trust is one of Philip’s main principles and surely a big factor on the Broyage’s low staff rotation.
I think the biggest mistake chefs make is not treating people with respect.”
Philip tries to let “the lads enjoy while they work” and he let’s them play their music, except during service time. Sometimes there might be haggling to decide if Queen gets played over reggae, but “we do have a laugh in the kitchen, they enjoy it and I enjoy it, and I think the chefs are relaxed. There’s nothing worse than when you don’t like your place of work.”
Regarding plans for the future, Philip is eager to expand the menu. It has already been upgraded from bar food to proper restaurant dishes and with a “recent, massive investment”, Philip has been given green light to keep improving.
“They told me, buy what you want, anything that you need, which is fantastic, they said if you need it, you buy it.” Once again, he thanks his good fortune but his success is not just a 35 year long streak of good luck, it’s what happens when hard work, passion and dedication combine.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.