The pros and cons of being a couple in the restaurant industry

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It’s one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, and as such couples in the industry rarely get to spend it together – they are too busy working. We spoke to Paul Goodenough, who is head chef at Rick Stein at Bannisters on the NSW South Coast, and his partner Kelly McPherson, chef at sister hotel Bannisters Pavilion, to find out what it’s like being a couple in the industry.

He says:

Paul, 37, worked at Rick Stein’s Cornwall restaurant before leaving to go travelling. When he ran out of money he contacted a mentor, who was working at the UK chef’s Mollymook noshery, and asked if he could come and work for six months. Seven years later he is still there. He met Aussie girl Kelly when she also came to work there a couple of years later. He liked her immediately.

“She was pretty hot,” he says. “We’d finish work around 10pm or 10.30pm and grab a beer and go and sit on the car and see how many shooting stars there were. It just developed from there. It was a secret at first. We didn’t tell heaps of people but people worked it out. We’d go to parties and sneak out and I think in the end people put two and two together. Chefs usually date waitresses or other people in hospitality. Because you work so much it’s just that mentality. It’s just the way it is when you work huge hours.”

While working the same hours is a big advantage, Paul says it’s important that what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. “We’re very lucky we have a good team but kitchens can definitely get stressful and you see raised temperatures,” he says. “It’s not quite like in the old days where people got really aggressive. It’s primarily a male-oriented industry. In a lot of kitchens there’s not many women. It can get heated.”

But the couple still enjoy cooking together at home. “We like to eat well,” Paul says. “I’ve been working for Rick Stein for a long time so I’m in the Rick zone, whereas Kelly is really into what’s going on and looks on social media to see what’s on trend and what people are doing.”

When it comes to advice for other people forming relationships in the industry, Paul says to do whatever feels right. “If you’re really serious and dating for a long time always keep your work and private life separate to a certain degree,” he says. “It’s easy to talk about work when you work all the time.”

She says:

Kelly, 32, worked at another hotel on the NSW South Coast before moving to the eatery.

“I wanted to work at Rick’s, so I applied for a job and Paul was the one who interviewed me,” she says. “It wasn’t until another year later that we started to hang out. I thought he was very attractive and I really liked the way he was very much a people person, but was very stern. I liked the way he demanded presence a lot of the time. People were scared of him but everyone got along with him at the same time.”

In the summer of 2015, Kelly moved to a new role as chef at the hotel. “I definitely did miss working with him in the kitchen but at the same time I can see the advantages,” she says. “You think that your relationship as chefs is a little bit more personal than everybody else so you can get away with more and he could be more lenient with me in certain situations. I learned that he had to treat me the same way as everyone, which was a little hard to deal with.”

Kelly agrees it is common for people in the industry to pair up and says they are one of several staff couples from the hotel. “We all hang out together after work most of the time,” she says. “You don’t really hang out with other people so if the opportunity comes that you do have a connection with somebody that’s pretty much how it tends to go. We both have Sunday and Monday off. He does the rosters for his kitchen and my head chef understands that in this situation people in a relationship need to have the same days off.”

She also loves cooking with Paul on their free days. “It’s usually some kind of meat and vegetables, basically healthy, tasty things,” she says. “We have our staples like ginger pork fillet stir-fry with vegetables and noodles, but if we have people over we try to do different things.”