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Q&A: Eddie Coffie, group chef, M&J Chickens

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GoHospitality  is mapping the Australian hospitality industry by building a collection of Q&As with people working across the wide and wonderful sector that it is. Chef Eddie Coffie of M&J Chickens  is first off the mark.

EDDIE COFFIE, GROUP CHEF & DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, M&J CHICKENS

What makes your job tick?
I've been cooking all my working life but I never knew you could still do so much with chicken.

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? 
I develop all of the new products for the group and also oversee our two cooking & production facilities based in Sydney with their state of the art equipment featuring spiral ovens, spiral chillers & freezers, continuous chain fryers & multi combi-ovens.

What training/education did you need for your job?
I studied Commercial Cookery at the City & Guilds of London Institute when I left school that took four years to complete. During that time I worked in a store-based restaurant where absolutely everything was made in-house from its very base. As an apprentice and later as a chef, I probably didn’t fully appreciate what I was learning at the time. To gain more experience, I continued to learn and progressed to various forms of education that have helped me to develop further. I obtained advanced certificates in HACCP Management at the Australian Institute of Management, People Development Program and a Diploma in Project Management.

How did you get to where you are today?
• Catering Manager, Sydney Olympic Park Sports Venues (3.5 years)
• Executive Chef,  Acer Arena (now Allphones Arena) (8.5 years)
• Non-Executive Director, Airport Fine Food (4 years)
• Executive Chef, Ansett Australia, Sydney Inflight Catering (4.5 years)
• Executive Chef, Australian Airlines (3.5 years)
• Chef, The Regent of Sydney Hotel (now known as The Four Seasons Hotel) (1 year)
• Sous Chef, Le Meridian Hotel, Piccadilly London (1.5 years)
• Chef, P & O Cruise Lines Limited (2 years)
• Chef de Partie, Savoy Hotel, London (1 year)

What tools and/or software are most important to you in your daily work?
I'm pleased to be sharpening my knives, creating dishes using new and exciting equipment and machinery. We have moved such a long way from targa stove tops to combi-ovens and now to multi-million dollar spiral ovens.
The other very important aspect about working on volumes of work is the effective use of spread sheets and formulas. I play with recipes making no more than 10 or 20 kg to test a recipe but make no less than two tonnes of anything in a single production run. Always check, double check and triple check your recipe formulas. 

What are you most proud of in your professional life?
It's difficult to go past managing the catering scope at the SuperDome (Acer, now Allphones Arena) during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Overseeing thousands of meals, multiple restaurants, and hundreds of chefs from around the country and overseas contributed to everything I had learned coming together. It was a great success and a very exciting time of my professional career.

Biggest daily challenge?
Planning and keeping an eye on the volumes of products prepared each day. 

Biggest career challenge?
Training people towards this industry can be a challenge at times. As a young chef I thought only hotels and restaurants were interesting, and then came cruise ships, airlines, arenas and now large scale production facilities. Sometimes the volumes are so large the job can become mundane however you still need people to complete these tasks and this is something I enjoy.

What's your biggest frustration in your job?
The travelling and changing of time zones - a trip to Queensland then Adelaide and Perth is enough to wear you out. Then add places like Dubai and Hong Kong to the mix which brings it all to a whole new level. It can sometimes sound glamorous when explaining my travels however after a long trip I’m straight back into it after landing.

What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
I'm hoping the poultry growers can keep up with the demands from M&J Chickens requirements. As our export business grows, we forget how small the population of Australia is and what we produce for Australia simply wouldn’t be enough to feed most major cities around the world. Australia’s food belt in general is extremely important as many overseas regions look for quality products. At the moment, only a small part of our business is focused on export, the high Australian dollar isn’t helping but worse is the heavy load of taxes particularly the carbon tax that's weighing us down and making us less competitive. 

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