Paul Rifkin – Executive Chef
Posted October 16, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Chef for over 40 years and executive chef at Campbelltown Catholic Club for 16 years, Paul Rifkin, loves creating meals that customers enjoy and inspiring young cooks. "I am a chef who derives immense enjoyment from finding and developing young chefs, then mentoring and watching their careers develop. Seeing them succeed is the best reward a chef can have, helping them when they need to be picked up and being involved in their continuing career is amazing."
What did you study to become a chef?
I came through a non-traditional path, ie, I started as a kitchen hand/cook and moved through the ranks quickly. I studied and completed a Certificate III in Cookery about 30 years after I started working as a chef.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
What was your first job?
As a youngster, it was working as a paperboy. My first career position was as an apprentice TV technician. I had been working in kitchens since leaving school as a kitchenhand/cook while doing the TV tech apprenticeship. I worked 3-4 nights a week as a cook/chef, leaving my day job at 4pm and going straight to the restaurant.
When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
When I left the TV Apprenticeship and started working as the 2nd chef at the restaurant I had been working at for the past 2 years. So I sort of evolved into it by accident.
Explain a typical day at work
I get in 7:20am and do a kitchen inspection, go over rostered shifts, check banquet event orders for the day, go over emails, stock etc.
By around 10am I'm ready for a short black perk up and I take a wander into the kitchen herb garden and do some weeding and checking the plants are growing correctly.
At 11 I'd check lunch setups are on target and offer any assistance, work on menu changes and KPI’s for the restaurants and functions, and add new ideas re food items or menu directions.
Once lunch service is in full swing at noon I might jump on the function service line to help serve, it might even just be wiping the plates.
Much of the rest of the day is very interactive with staff sit-downs, phone calls and handling emergencies. If there are large functions on at the main club I head back and assist with plating if required finishing at 8-9pm (this is only occasionally as my staff are always on top of things). Most days I head home at 4:30pm, I ensure I leave on time, it’s a discipline I have developed to keep my work/home balance, stick to start and finish times but be flexible if required.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?
Replacing the head chef of Bilson’s as a guest chef on 2GB at short notice back in 1990 and ending up with a radio job on the John Raedler show. This introduced me to Bruce Barnet, Peter Howard, Simon Marnie and others. I am still friends today with these and many others from this chance opportunity.
Name the best and worst parts of your job
The best part of being a chef is the performance one can orchestrate every service, create food, inspire and teach young chefs and then cook it, present it and watch the customers enjoy it. Knowing that you are responsible for ensuring that your customers have a great time away from their normal world, you provide them with a culinary escape, that is extremely rewarding. When it goes pear shaped….that is the worst part of the job.
What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?
Believe in yourself and your ability to rise to the top, use every failure as a step up. Never take your eye off the goal, as a junior chef I always told others that I would be the head chef at the restaurant, many laughed at me….later on those same people worked for me when I became head chef.
What do you wish someone had told you before starting in cheffing?
Spend more time learning the basics, don’t be in a rush to be the head chef. The career will last many years, use the first bit to accumulate knowledge and practise. I was a head chef by 22 years old and stayed there most of my next 36 years. I wish I had slowed it down a bit and learnt more basics, I actually learnt my skills from hiring very good 2nd chefs over the first 10 years and they taught me, a bit backwards…but it worked for me.
Where do people have to start to get into this field and what is a standard salary package for this role?
You need to start with enthusiasm and passion and a willingness to learn, an apprenticeship is the best path. Your salary is determined by your ability and desire to lead, there is very good money available in this industry if you work the path.
Name a career highlight
Accepting my current role. It has given me the opportunity to design, build and run multiple restaurants and event spaces. The culmination of many years of learning is now being used to run the catering at a large club serving 13,000 meals a week across 8 restaurants, a convention centre, gym, golf club and hotel.
Tell us a little more about life outside of the kitchen
I am excited by the unknown and thrive on making the impossible work at short notice. I do speaking competitions for fun, I am a photographer, I love camping and bushwalking, I am an adventurer doing the less done….sleeping on the ice in Antarctica, climbing to Everest base camp and higher, carnival in Rio and so so much more.
I really enjoy the PR side of things so you'll regularly find me presenting at industry conferences and as a judge at cooking competitions.
Keen to fire up your cooking skills? Head on over to our Hospitality Courses page and make an enquiry today!
Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.