Head chef Donna has earned her corn

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    Donna Hughes

    THIS week’s High Flyer is Donna Hughes, resort head chef at the Galgorm Resort & Spa

    What was your first job?

    I started out at the age of just 15 as a waitress in a café in Ballymena. It was my first taste of hospitality and I fell in love with the pace and the buzz of the environment instantly. I believe that first job, which was completely by chance, paved the trajectory of my career in the industry.

    What has been the highlight of your career to date?

    Undoubtedly the highlight of my career was my promotion to resort head chef at Galgorm. I began my career at Galgorm as pastry chef before progressing through the ranks as chef de partie, junior sous chef and head banqueting chef. I gained a wealth of experience and understanding of these different roles setting me up to take on the position of resort head chef. Heading up the team involves overseeing all kitchens throughout the resort, as well as managing a team of 50 chefs and 15 kitchen porters. I never have a quiet moment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?

    Hardworking, fun, fair, reliable and enthusiastic.

    Who do you look up to in business?

    It would be difficult to look past some of the great chefs when it comes to inspiration. Angela Hartnett has inspired me throughout my career, especially her work in promoting female chefs. Another would be Marco Pierre White. His early television work shone a light on the hospitality industry and brought the detail and exceptional hard work that goes on behind the scenes to a wider audience. From a business perspective, I have an immense amount of respect for Paul and Nicky Hill, the owners of Galgorm. Having worked for them for 19 years I have watched the business go from strength to strength and I understand the dedication and integrity that has gone into making that happen.

    What’s your greatest passion outside of work and family?

    Travelling has always been my passion and although it brings great personal satisfaction it definitely gives me inspiration on a professional level too. There is nothing as exciting as exploring new places. The east and west coasts of America are my regions of choice and New Orleans is currently number one on my list of places to visit. The rich mix of music, food and vibrant cultural heritage – three great joys in life – are what attracts me to the American city.

    What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

    Without a doubt it is receiving positive feedback from guests and diners at the resort. The feeling of gratification when someone has had a great experience makes what can often be very long hours worth every second. As well as this, watching chefs progress through the kitchen, knowing that I’ve played a part in guiding them through to the next step in their career, brings me a great sense of pride.

    Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?

    Pursuing my travel ambitions. Visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras is currently on the top of my bucket list. I also really want to explore Australia in the not too distant future.

    What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career?

    Be prepared to give 100 per cent. If you want to be the best at anything and in any industry, you have to be committed and willing to put in the effort. It’s also important to be open to taking on board constructive criticism as well as praise, as I’ve always found there are valuable learnings to be taken from both. I would also say that if you’re following and fulfilling your passion, there is no greater feeling of reward.