Mohamed Diabate, Chef De Pass
A day in the life
Mohamed followed his wife from the Côte d’Ivoire to London in 2007. He had originally studied business administration, working at the Banque Atlantique in Abidjan, but took the opportunity to change direction. He joined Pétrus, where he worked under both Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing and learnt what it meant to be part of a Michelin-starred restaurant team. He moved to Hélène Darroze in 2009 as a commis waiter, progressing to become chef de pass.
What is a chef de pass?
A chef de pass is essentially the link between the chefs in the kitchen and the waiters on the restaurant floor. You’re in charge of all the service systems through which orders are made - including the timings. Orders come to the kitchen electronically from the restaurant floor, and on the order is the table number, the time, the name of the waiter and all the dietary requirements. So the first thing I need to do is note the time and then ensure that the first course is served 10 minutes later, and that the next course is served about 10 minutes after the first one is finished.
What other niceties do you observe in a two Michelin-starred restaurant?
When the head waiter takes an order, he numbers every guest on a table, based on where they are sitting. He will also take a note of any allergies or preferences; for example, someone who is pregnant might like something better cooked, or someone might have asked for an ingredient to be left out. So it’s up to me to ensure that all those details are taken care of in the kitchen and, secondly, that I position the plates on the tray so that the waiter can simply hand them out and doesn’t need to ask who ordered what. This means the service runs much more smoothly.
Describe your typical working shift.
I start at 4.30pm every day – checking with reception if a private event is on that day or there is anything special we need to know about. Then I start to work on the mise-en-place for that evening – checking that all the plates are in the correct part of the kitchen, checking the coffee area, making sure the ham is the right temperature (depending on how busy lunch was, it might need to be put back in the refrigerator). I take care of the plates at the beginning of the service – making sure they are polished and spotless, ready for the chefs to dress the food. I also make sure that the butter is at the correct temperature and ready on the tray. Sometimes the chefs will brief us all about new dishes, just before evening service starts at 6.30pm.
During the service I’m usually at the pass or elsewhere around the kitchen, managing both the orders and the commis team – the runners and waiters – ensuring the attention to detail you need in a Michelin-starred kitchen. It all has to look effortless, but it can be quite stressful at busy times! At closing time it’s up to me to make sure everything is polished and put away in a safe place, ready for the mise-en-place for tomorrow’s lunch. We are working with valuable items and can’t leave things lying around. I also count out all the Frette linen that’s been used and send it to the linen room. I finish at around 1 or 2am, depending on when the last guest left the restaurant.
Do you train the commis team?
Every day. I train them in-house, on the job – especially since they represent many different nationalities and come from different cultures, so there is much to learn. I also look after stagiaires – anyone who comes in as an apprentice or intern – and I introduce all the new waiters.
What do you like best about your job?
After so many years I find I still enjoy everything. Every day I make new discoveries. I love it when we do events as well – we’ve worked with a number of luxury brands – I love all these things.
What have you learnt from Hélène herself?
With Hélène I have learnt that everything can be done slowly and calmly. Everything should be beautifully executed, particularly the presentation. All her relationships with the team are so good – she says ‘Call me Hélène’ to make it feel like a family, but without ever losing the professionalism. Loyalty is very important to her and she is very fair; she also likes innovation – for example with the menu concept, using marbles and a solitaire board.
What do you think is the most important quality you need to do your job well?
You have to have a passion for it; but also, mainly, the ability to communicate. Every day in the restaurant I try to facilitate the communication between all the chefs and all the waiters. Possibly as a result of this, I’m also a confidant for the staff – I hear about all their problems and if they are new to London I will help them with paperwork or looking for a house or a doctor. They are my second family.