Private School Chefs: An ideal work and life balance

Ask any chef the greatest challenge of all and they will probably tell you that a healthy work and family balance is elusive if not impossible. Hence the reason we see so many single chefs working these days!

Matthew Sanderson has been able to mix a career as a chef with a normal family life. Here’s how…

Matt’s cheffing background is a typical one. His Apprenticeship began with a TAFE based Commercial Cookery Course (New England TAFE) and completed by working in several boutique hotels in the Tamworth area over the following four years.

In the mid 90’s Matt moved to the Central Coast of New South Wales to run an Italian Restaurant. The restaurant was a State finalist at the Restaurant & Caterers Association (RCA) for Best Small Restaurant.

After ten years behind the burners Matt needed a break and became a Seafood Wholesaler for the next four years.

In 2003, Matt took up the position of Executive Sous Chef at one of Sydney’s most prestigious Private Schools, Barker College.

Barker College is located on Sydney’s Upper North Shore and is an easy commute to the Central Coast. Where Matt lives with his wife and young family.

BISTRO finds out what are the challenges catering to an elite private school and how this job allowed him to finally achieve an enviable work & family life balance.

Bistro: Can you give us an overview of Barker College?

Matt Sanderson: Barker College has seventy boarders and a total student head count of 2065 students . We are responsible for providing Lunch to our boarders and nearly two hundred and fifty staff members each weekday. Our boarders receive three meals per day: Breakfast; Lunch and Dinner.

We are also responsible for overseeing four ‘Tuck Shops’ on the campus as well as a Gloria Jeans style Café. Our team also caters for large functions throughout the year. These range from cocktail parties to traditional sit down dinners. In both cases we typically cater for about three hundred guests.

B: Can you outline the typical lunch and dinner menu?

MS: The lunch menu will be a selection of wraps and sandwiches and will always include a hot food item such as a soup.

For dinner there will be a selection of at least two protein main meals. For example a chargrilled beef fillet with potato gratin with a red wine jus or say chicken breast on a polenta base with vegetables. The dinner menu is obviously reserved for our boarders.

B: Do you have alternative menus for those with allergies?

MS: Yes, all dietary needs are catered for.

B: Does the kitchen team have weekend responsibilities?

MS: Definitely. Some of our boarders will stay on campus over weekends. That means we are a seven-day operation. A Chef is on duty on weekends.

B: How is the menu planned?

MS: During school holidays the Executive Chef, with input from the team will design a menu that will cover the following Term. This menu is then given to an independent dietitian to make sure we have met the nutritional goals that have been set for us. We make a big effort to ensure the menu has variety and reflects seasonal changes where possible.

B: What is the structure at Barker in terms of chain of command?

MS: The Executive Chef answers to the Catery Manager and bursar. The bursar is the financial administrator within the school. He is responsible for all non-teaching departments. We are given an annual budget and it is the Executive Chef’s responsibility to operate within this budget and to also be responsible for the P & L of our revenue earning functions, the cocktail parties and sit down dinner events.

B: Tell us about the kitchen team.

MS: We have a total of six trade-qualified chefs and two kitchen hands support us.

B: Can you tell us how many plates you serve in a week?

MS: We will provide over five hundred meals per day Monday – Friday. These cover Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. On weekends we would do about fifty meals per day for our boarders who stay over for weekends.

B: Can you give us a rundown on sourcing produce?

MS: Pretty similar to running a restaurant. We have wholesalers that we deal with. I like to partner with several wholesalers – to keep a competitive edge between them. We use Top Cut Meats and a local butcher at Hornsby. We also get daily fruit and vegetables from Sydney Markets. However, for cakes and pastries for the Tuck Shops and Café, rather than make them on premise we use suppliers for this. Currently a we are getting these products from Bob & Petes and use a continental patisserie.

B: What is the main difference between being a chef at Barker College as opposed to a similar role in a restaurant?

MS: The hours! If I was running a restaurant my hours would be an 8 am start and probably an 11pm finish. If I were Head Chef then the responsibility of sourcing the produce would come under me. Hence the early start.

At Barker College I’ll generally start work at 7am and be finished at 3.30pm unless we have a function. From Barker I’m straight on the Freeway home to the Central Coast by 5 pm at the latest. I’m home in time to play with the kids, help with homework and the like. This job gives me freedom and regularity.

B: Is there much staff turnover within the team?

MS: Absolutely not! I have been here thirteen years. The Executive Chef has been here fifteen years and the rest of the team a similar time. Our team is very much a family where we can rely on each other. This type of environment is really important as we all have lives and families outside work and we are able to support each other throughout the year. When we do recruit staff we are really conscious of the dynamics of our team and we look for someone who not just has the skills but will also fit in.

B: Do you see yourself as returning to the restaurant scene in the future?

MS: Not in the near future. The school treats us extremely well and I love my job and the chefs I work with. Working for an employer who looks after their staff so well is obviously a big attraction for me.