Derek Reilly Aramark
Derek, can you summarise your job and your career so far, in 200 words or less? I have a 27-year history in the food business, my early career started in a high-end French restaurants in Dublin at 16 years old, completing a 5-year apprenticeship, I moved through the ranks from Commis Chef, to Head Chef and then to Executive Chef in restaurants and five star hotels before joining Aramark as Culinary Director 3 years ago where I now oversees the production of 250,000 meals a day. My role in Aramark is my most exciting to date, working alongside an extremely talented team on food innovation and concepts, ensuring quality, variety and consistency across the company’s menus, leading the culinary training of our chefs, working with the Innovation team at Aramark to delivery culinary excellence.
You’ve worked with some big names – can you tell me who, and what this was like?
I have been lucky enough through my career to have worked alongside and been inspire and mentored by some of my culinary heroes Pierre Koffmann, Derry Clarke, Paul Rankin, Kevin Dundon and Rachel Allen to name a few. All with their own unique style, talent and skill this knowledge has stayed with me throughout my whole career.
Tell me about the Chef training programmes within Aramark – how does it work, who runs it and what are its goals and objectives? Aramark don’t cut corners when it comes to training and development, with a packed monthly calendar including Culinary Academies, Brightstars Culinary Academies for the young chefs, study trips like foraging for mushrooms, supplier seminars, cook offs, demos and competitions, tastings and training videos, myself and the team are determined to reach out and inspire
What are the best parts of the Chef training programmes, and which is your favourite moment so far? The investment of time, energy and resources in training and upskilling is well worth the rewards the team need to feel they can be successful and that there is a genuine, open career path available to them. By rewarding our chefs with career progression, we keep all that knowledge and skill in-house and so we grow as a company.
What makes a great chef different to a good chef?
A great chef is all about attitude and attention to detail in my opinion – everyone can cook however my goal is to inspire them to want reach the next level through hard work and commitment to their craft making it their career and not just a job, A great chef has natural ability, passion, vison and an in-depth understanding of fresh, seasonal produce and the ability to create simple food.
What has been your three career highlights? (1) Winning the chef of the year at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards in the UK in 2010 and the award being presented to me by one of my chef idols Pierre Koffmann – to date I am still the only Irish chef to have ever won this award.
(2) Invited as Guest Executive Chef to the European Parliament in Brussels to cook Irish themed food when Ireland had the European Presidency in 2013.
(3) Executive Chef at the London Olympics in 2012
What’s your favourite part of your job? – Travel around to our different food operations, interacting and engaging with our culinary teams and tasting fantastic food !!
What are the challenges of being the Culinary Director of Aramark for Ireland? Time pressures, Aramark is such a diverse and fast paced company with so many different exciting innovative project on the go there never seems to be enough hours in the day !!
How do you overcome these? – Prioritising tasks and working within a very skilful team that I can share the load and delegate projects.
Tell me about the seasonal food Concepts within Aramark – what are they and how are they incorporated into the menus? We launch our seasonal food concepts quarterly, which includes our food heroes i.e. what’s in season, a selection of healthy dishes and on trend Street Food concept like Mexican, Indian or Brazilian. We are currently in our “Hello Summer” campaign with our Smokehouse BBQ with an array of grilled meats, vegetarian options and delicious sides and salads, we have vegetarian Indian Concept “Chow Patty” and our healthy “Power Box” this is the perfect food theme to bring Summer to our customers and keeps us on trend and relevant. These concepts are in addition to our daily menus.
What has been your favourite moment working for Aramark this year! Being involved in the Aramark Chef of the year and the Aramark European Chefs Cup two really fantastic Culinary events that really inspired our chefs and gave them the opportunity to showcase their craft skill on the big stage – It made me so proud !
What makes a good team in the culinary sector? Openness and honesty with your team and to lead by example, no job or task is ever beneath you.
What’s your career advice to anyone looking to start out in the culinary sector? Go and get the knowledge, have confidence in yourself, follow your ambitions and stay focused, never give up and most importantly have fun along the way !!