Five minutes with... Sam Jeal - Catering Manager and Wedding Functions Co-Ordinator

Posted: 25 August 2014

Blog category: Meet the Team, Chefs

Age: 37

Lives: Ashford

Qualifications: City and Guilds in Hospitality and Catering


Career: Sam was a part-time waitress at the Little Silver Country Hotel in Tenterden as a teenager, before leaving school to study a City and Guilds qualification at college in Folkestone. After graduating, she worked as kitchen and front of house staff at a restaurant in Deal, before moving to a senior role at a country house hotel in Goudhurst. Her next role was as Assistant Restaurant Manager at Eastwell Manor near Ashford, where she remained for nine years, promoted to Food and Beverages Manager during that time. In 2005 she left to work for a catering company which provided services for a variety of Kent attractions including Shepherd Neame’s Visitor Centre. In 2007 she took on her current role at Shepherd Neame.

Hobbies and interests: Reading, watching films, gardening and cooking.

Favourite Shepherd Neame beer: Whitstable Bay Blonde lager or Double Stout.

What are your main responsibilities? I am responsible for ensuring the successful delivery of all events booked at Shepherd Neame’s Visitor Centre, The Old Brewery Store and brewery. My tasks include dealing with enquiries, sending out promotional material, and organising staffing for events. I cook for many functions, and plan all the menus with our full-time chef Darren. I also undertake front-of house work, such as manning the bar at an event.

Is there a typical day? I work full-time, but there are no typical days or hours. For example, if a couple is interested in getting married here, I will work around them – whenever they are free to visit, I will accommodate them. If they decide to book with us, I will liaise with them over the preparations and then oversee the day itself.

Are you a manager? I manage chef Darren, part-time catering assistants Clare and Andy, and oversee the temporary waiting staff we employ.

What personal characteristics help you in your role? I have always loved cooking since I was a little girl, as I grew up in the kitchen with my Mum and my Nan. I have also always considered myself a sociable person who enjoys being with people, which is essential in this job.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job? Making other people happy, particularly seeing brides and grooms having the spectacular day they dreamed of.

What is tough about the job? Our larger events can be challenging, as they often involve lots of multi-tasking, jumping between the kitchen and front-of-house work.

What do you consider to be your biggest personal success at the company so far? Being trusted to cook for the Neame family dinner and the brewery’s Annual General Meeting shortly after I started working at the brewery.

What attracted you to work for Shepherd Neame? I got to know the brewery well when I worked here with the catering company, and was particularly impressed by the firm’s family ethos. The hours also attracted me, as the role’s flexibility allowed me to have some evenings and weekends off, which can be rare in catering positions.

How has the industry changed? When I started out, restaurant kitchens used to predominantly consist of male staff. During my time at Eastwell Manor, people always presumed that I was a man before meeting me, as they couldn’t imagine that a woman could be head chef of such a prestigious restaurant. But it is much more balanced now, which is great to see. I also think that people take a lot more interest in the food they eat now, particularly the provenance of the ingredients used. We use locally sourced, seasonal produce when preparing food for brewery events whenever possible.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry? Be prepared to work long, unsociable hours - catering is not a 9 to 5 job! Also, when you are training, try to keep your career options open by finding a course which covers both catering and hospitality. My City and Guilds qualification covered both, and it has proved incredibly helpful as it equipped me for all aspects of the business.