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Five Minutes with… Tony Smith, Head Chef at the New Flying Horse

Posted: 12th April 2019

Name: Tony Smith, Head Chef at The New Flying Horse, Wye
​​Lives: Ashford 
Age: 38

Career: Tony completed his GCSEs at the North School in Ashford, before going on to study catering at South Kent College in Folkestone. He worked as a Chef de partie at a golf club in Hildenborough, leaving after two years to complete a month-long placement as Chef de partie at The Savoy Hotel in London. His roles then included working as Senior Chef de partie at the Royal Wells Hotel in Tunbridge Wells and Sous Chef at Thorins Wine Bar in the town, before moving to the Hythe Imperial Hotel, where he remained for 11 years, leaving as Sous Chef. He joined the New Flying Horse in January 2015 as Sous Chef, before being appointed Head Chef three months later.

Now part of the mentor chef scheme for Shepherd Neame where I am involved with helping Simon Howlett (Shepherd Neame Training and Development Chef) to cook and present dishes for core menus and dishes, also at times assisting other head chefs at other sites and functions, events such as the licensee ball and manager forums.

Are you a manager? I have a team of five kitchen staff which I manage, and also help train. There is an excellent online training system available from Shepherd Neame which I use for my team, along with one-on-one guidance. I really enjoy passing on knowledge and seeing their skills develop. 

What attracted you to the industry? I started working part-time in a kitchen when I was at school, and found that I really enjoyed cooking and working with food, so I decided to pursue it as a career. I still have as much enthusiasm for it as when I started out. I love experimenting with flavours and different ways of cooking, and trying out new presentation styles. 

What personal characteristics help you in your role? You need to have a calm, organised nature, to be able to ensure your kitchen runs smoothly, but also have the energy and drive to ensure the team delivers during a busy service. 

What attracted you to the job? I really enjoy being given the freedom to put my own stamp on the pub’s menu. I am free to introduce new dishes, I just source the ingredients and cost them, and then seek approval from Simon at the brewery. Being part of the Shepherd Neame estate means that we also receive a lot of support in our career development. Since joining, I have been on a food hygiene and kitchen safety refresher session, and I have also taken part in a chef development workshop, where we were trained in butchering, preparing and cooking cuts of meat. There were 17 of us, and it was great to meet other head chefs to share best practice and experiment with menu ideas. It also shows that Shepherd Neame is trying to remain on-trend with its menus, and keep pushing chefs to try new things, which is great to see.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job? I hate the word ‘special’, as I think every dish should be special, but I really enjoy planning off-menu dishes using the seasonal produce coming in from our local suppliers. And there is nothing as exhilarating as completing a busy service where everything goes really well and you get great feedback.

What is tough about the job? It involves long hours, and a lot of paperwork – it isn’t just about cooking anymore. You have to think of your customers’ safety, your team’s safety and your own. It is a serious business.

Which chefs most inspire you? I really like Thomas Keller, who runs the French Laundry restaurant in America, and Jamie Oliver is a big influence. I also admire Heston Blumenthal’s imaginative approach to food.

What are your hobbies and interests outside work? I really do love cooking, so when I’m home I spend a lot of my spare time experimenting with new dishes and testing them on my wife. Even when I’m on holiday, I am always noting down ideas for new recipes or presentation ideas.

I have two children so a lot of hobbies and interests are around them. I have found a new interest in children’s food that I never had before becoming a father. My wife is also trying to lose baby weight so more ‘weight watching’ meals are a goal I’m looking to introduce at some point.

What advice would you give someone considering a career as a chef? If you have a passion for food and are willing to put your whole life into it, it is the best profession in the world.

Would you like to work for us as a chef?  Find out more