Way back in 2005, when in his mid-twenties, Ashley Palmer-Watts had already achieved in his career that to which many might aspire – he was Head Chef at a restaurant with three Michelin stars. And not just any restaurant, but The Fat Duck.
So what next?! What was his next achievement to be and how would he stay focused?
For him, the trigger was being invited to present the Royal Institute Christmas Lecture. Heston Blumenthal, Ashley’s manager, addressed Ashley’s doubts about his ability to do this by recommending he get some coaching!
Despite some doubts, applying the Fat Duck ethos of trying new things to see what happens, Ashley decided to give it a go.
At his first session it became clear that apart from the ‘technical’ skills of presentation, he needed to work on his confidence in front of an audience. Ashley believes that you have to invest in something in order to get outcomes, so worked hard, both with Mike Duckett and between sessions, to achieve his objectives and in return received much acclaim after the Lecture.
Ashley is aware that coaching should not be perceived as a blunt instrument for tackling a narrowly defined problem, but as a subtle tool to help clients achieve broader objectives. He therefore had further sessions with Mike after the Lecture, with the broad aim of becoming a superb Head Chef. He wanted to be a leader, a role model and an inspiration. Most of all he wanted to earn those things, not to expect them just because he had the job title.
He therefore worked on management techniques, problem solving and how to grow professionally to become the Head Chef he wanted to be.
Here, on this clip Ashley talks about his experience of leadership when Head Chef at The Fat Duck
He also wanted to learn how to free his mind, to become more creative. He needed to avoid getting bogged down with dealing with problems in the kitchen and fire fighting, instead focussing on his creativity. (Familiar issue?!)
Mike gave Ashley a number of tools to help him achieve this aim. Just one of these tools was specific pieces of music to listen to while he goes for a half hour walk. Ideas are not necessarily generated during that half hour, but his creativity is stimulated and he is confident that the results justify the time investment. Before opening ‘Dinner’ at The Mandarin Hotel, Ashley did this every day. The rigours of service mean that this is no longer possible, but he still uses this technique as often as he can – if it works, keep doing it!
Sometimes Ashley doesn’t really know what he wants to achieve in a coaching session – there’s no immediate ‘problem’. It never takes long though to draw out what’s not quite right, what’s not working, what needs improvement, and the next two hours then fly by! Ashley appreciates that Mike doesn’t put things into his head, he gives him tools to help him “crack the code”, to see how simple things can be.
Looking back on what he has achieved so far, Ashley is now comfortable with the fact that he (and anyone else) can develop further than he thought, given the right tools and the right support. He is a driven person who wants to become even more successful.
He does perceive himself as being very lucky to work for a company which also believes this and which is prepared to support him to achieve his aims, and who clearly see this as being of benefit to the company.
Ashley’s advice is that however successful you already are, and however you define success, you can and should work on yourself in order to either maintain your success or to become even more successful