Despite not knowing any English when she arrived in the UK 26 years ago, Ellina Smith has gone on to become Shepherd Neame’s Food Development Chef, managing and mentoring chefs from 20 restaurants.
As part of Shepherd Neame’s celebration of International Women’s Day, we meet Ellina and find out more about her drive, determination and passion for helping other chefs…
Name: Ellina Smith
Tell us about your career to date…
I came to England 26 years ago because I married my husband, who I met on my first holiday abroad. It was love at first sight – and we are still together 26 years later. But I couldn’t speak English and had to start from the beginning. I went for a job in a kitchen and started working at the Ebury Wine Bar and Restaurant in Belgravia when my son was one year old - through sheer hard work I progressed very quickly. I did nine years there and then my second son was born. By then we lived in Dartford and I joined Shepherd Neame and worked as Head Chef at The Wharf nearby for a total of 11 years, the last four of which I was mentoring other chefs. I then became a Development Chef five years ago and now look after 20 of the restaurants in the business, developing chefs’ skills on every level possible and supporting them as much as I can, and being part of the Food Development Team, designing new dishes.
What personal characteristics help you in your role?
I like to think I am optimistic. I try to help people see they can face the challenge because there are always benefits. I provide emotional support too. I do often talk to chefs about mental health – it is a high pressure job. I try to recalibrate people so they can deal with pressure, and remind them that they have to balance their life with their responsibilities.
What does a typical day for you involve?
I could be the Prep Chef or the Line Chef in the kitchen, or I could be washing up! I could also be mentoring other chefs – all and any of these things. As part of the Food Development Team I also work on designing new dishes which taste great and look fantastic. We constantly are working on improving the food we offer and ensuring consistently high food standards across the business. I also work with Head Development Chef Simon Howlett on researching new food trends to ensure we stay current.
What is most rewarding about your role?
I enjoy every moment I spend with the chefs and it is great to see how far they can progress
I enjoy the fact that it isn’t monotonous – it can be challenging – but I love seeing the fruits of my labours, as it were. I develop relationships with people and hopefully the chefs see me as someone who they can rely on. I do remind the chefs that it is hard graft, and the grass isn’t always greener. If there is a problem you have to sort it out and then move on. Being a head chef is much more than cooking. To mentor people and then years later see them doing a fantastic job, knowing what they have dealt with and how they have grown very satisfying.
What do you like about working for Shepherd Neame?
I have been with Shepherd Neame for 16 years and it is like family. I have always been made to feel welcome and supported in all the roles I have done for Shepherd Neame.
What are your hobbies and interests outside work?
I teach the violin, as I am a violinist. I love music. I also love sewing and I am teaching myself to play the piano. I am an interpreter and 10 years ago I trained as a hypnotherapist.
To find out more about other roles with Shepherd Neame, visit https://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/careers