Changing careers and shaping the future of hospitality

Mark Irish shares an insight into his career as Head of Food Development at wholesale food supplier Brakes, which, alongside sister company Sysco Speciality Group, has recently become part of the #FairKitchens movement.

What has your career looked like to date?

I started out as an apprentice chef in the Navy whilst studying City and Guilds in Cookery. Following my studies I then moved into various contract catering roles predominately in corporate hospitality & supporting large off-site catering events. The draw of working more sociable hours along with the opportunity to learn new skills in a demanding yet creative environment was a massive incentive for me and my hard work paid off as I was able to move into more Senior roles in the kitchen.

The flexibility of this job also allowed me to supplement my income by working in Hotels local to where I lived where I gained invaluable experience in banqueting & a la carte dining.

After 16 years as an industry chef, I decided to have a career change to find more of a work-life balance. I initially joined Brakes as an Area Sales Manager and worked my way up to my current role as Head of Food Development.


What do you most enjoy about your role?

My role is very diverse and allows me to challenge myself on a daily basis. I work across different departments, but at the heart of it my role is all about food and our customers.

Having such different responsibilities makes the whole experience really exciting! If you're an established chef looking for a change in career, I’d say a role in food/product development is something well worth considering as it offers a great platform to transfer your chef skills to whilst challenging yourself to adapt to life outside a conventional kitchen environment.


Why are you so passionate about Brakes being part of #FairKitchens?

Having previously been a chef for 16 years, the movement really resonates with me. I've seen this slow progression in the industry where we're losing good chefs, and not attracting young people in.

When I was younger, I worked in some of those kitchens with chefs that weren't particularly nice or always as supportive as they could of been. Nowadays young people have so many options and that's why the industry needs to wake up a little bit.

We’ll always attract people that love food and cooking, but we need to develop and support them so they stay and become the Head Chefs / Exec Chefs of the future.

The #FairKitchens mission is very much aligned with our business purpose and core values. Together, our aim is to ensure that kitchens become more inclusive environments, in which anyone can thrive and be successful. This’ll help us appeal to a new and diverse generation of talent who will become the chefs of tomorrow.

We've got thousands, if not millions of customers that we deal with across the Sysco group (which Brakes is part of). So if we can influence and guide them to make positive changes where they can, that makes all the difference. We’ll act as our customers’ go-to for the support, tools and resources they’ll need to run fairer kitchens.