We catch up with David Fitzsimmons, the new head chef at Bistrot Bagatelle in the Fairmont Hotel here in Dubai.
What inspired you to get into the hospitality industry?
To be honest, getting into the industry was pure fluke. I loved cooking with my Dad on Sundays, knocking up a Sunday roast for us and the family.
The opportunity came up, when I was in school, and we had a two week work experience to do, and I was sent to the best restaurant in Liverpool! After the two weeks, I got the buzz of the kitchen. The rest is history.
What are the key skills you possess that make you well-suited to this role?
I have 17 years of experience in kitchens, which is more than half my life. I’ve worked in many places, at different levels.
Working in these different places, and for the time I’ve been a chef, you learn to work alongside your staff and not above them. To treat people the way you wish to be treated, and to always be one step ahead of the competition. It’s a tough but very rewarding industry and career.
Tell us a bit about the other markets you have worked in and how that compares to your current role?
I’ve worked in a few different cuisines (French, British, Asian, and Italian) I’ve worked in both stand-alone restaurants, restaurants in hotels, and chain restaurants. When you have been in this career for so long, you adapt very quickly to your role. All chefs are very similar in their aspirations and dreams, and if they don’t, you tend to move onto another job very quickly.
When you become a head chef or executive chef, you end up having your set ways, and certain styles about how you run a kitchen, so the comparison is not very much.
What are some of the challenges you foresee, and the opportunities you see crop up from them?
There are always going to be challenges in any career, as it should be you personally that sets them. For me, challenging myself to create better dishes than before. To improve old cooking techniques, and learn new ones. The idea of having a place of my own, for me and my family to run, always pushes me to do more, and to learn as much as I can from the people around me.
If opportunities come of any of them, I’ll be happy and grateful.
What would say are a few of your most significant accomplishments so far?
I’ve always achieved a restaurant of the year, or an accolade of some description in every restaurant I’ve ever worked in.
Name three of your favourite aspects of your new role.
- To work on and improve all the staff I have in my kitchen. To train them in all aspects of kitchen life, and not make the same mistakes I did.
- Being given the opportunity to work on different concepts other than the restaurant I now work in.
- Being able to work in another country. To learn from the people that live here, and what their ideal dining experience would be.
Can you describe any new initiatives or programmes that you are planning to introduce as part of your new position?
For my guys in the kitchen, I’ll be placing some different programmes together. One of the main programmes will be meat and fish preparation. Many chefs in this country don’t have the general knowledge of good knife skills. What different knives to use for different jobs.
I and my sous chef will conduct separate tasks on a weekly basis for different ways of preparation for meat and fish. We will teach the chefs, they will work along with us, and then we will leave them to complete the task alone. Towards the end of each week, we will test the staff on what they have learnt.
I had career goals when I was 15 years old, when I became a chef. They were probably like many other chefs to be perfectly honest.
- To become a head chef by a certain age.
- To create your own menu with all your own recipes.
- To work in a Michelin star restaurant
- To have a place of your own
- To be successful
I’ve done three of them. For me, over the time I’ve been a chef, Michelin star has always been a dream, to at least work in one. I still have plenty of time to do that, but it is not on the top of the to-do list anymore.
A place of my own is in the pipeline, but I have plenty of time for that also. I believe that career goals change a lot as you get older, and change more frequently. So, to be very honest, my only goal is to be the very best I can be, right here, right now. Ask me the same question next week, and I may have a completely different answer!
Bistrot Bagatelle head chef