Tom Shepherd: 'They never got the best out of me and I want to get the best out of my staff.'

The Staff Canteen

It’s not often chefs leave the industry for over a decade and then make the choice to come back in to it but Thom Bateman did. Talking on The Staff Canteen podcast, Grilled with Tom Shepherd, Thom, chef owner of the Flintlock at Cheddleton, explains why mental health was the reason he left.

Plus, Tom gives us an insight into his mental health journey and why he has created a ‘safe space’ for his team at Upstairs.

“It (mental health) wasn’t one of the reasons I left, it was the whole reason,” explained Thom when asked about why he left hospitality.

“The idea that I was not having a social life and not enjoying giving up that time – nowadays I love being here. Before it was always too much.

“That combined with what I would describe as not making real food, it’s a double negative. I ended up in a right mess with it because I was not only sad, I was lonely and I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I thought, ‘why am I doing this?’.”

At that point, Thom went to get some help from his GP, who he knew outside of being a doctor, and he asked the same thing, ‘why are you doing this, remind me?’. Thom couldn’t answer him.

He said: “I’d arrived at a point where I realised it was not good and I need to change, so I did. It was difficult to part ways because it was a family business but ultimately I had no choice but to make the choice of leaving.

“You move away from the industry completely and go and live life outside hospitality and realise if you want to do it, you’ve really got to want to go and do it. And that’s where I ended back up at.”

He added: “Keeping yourself healthy in your mind is very, very important.”

Thom explained that being in a kitchen and running a business ‘is massively pressured’ and there is a lot involved.

“You’ve got to be concentrating all the time, so if you are not in a good place then you are not going to perform at your best. “Leadership is not an entitlement to do less, it’s a responsibility to do more. So, if you are not strong mentally then you are going to struggle.”

Mental health affects people in different ways

Tom says his experience with mental health came later in his career, in a role where he believes his head chef was also suffering with mental health issues and wasn’t in a good place. It was 14 years ago and he didn’t know at the time what was going on.

“I just thought he was a bit hot and cold,” said Tom.

After all the issues, this head chef promoted Tom to sous chef aged 20/21 because he had ‘essentially held the fort’.

“What I didn’t tell him was that it was massively effecting me as well. It started off with funny turns which I couldn’t control, dizzy spells and foggy headedness, cloudy eyes – I went to the doctors so many times and they just said I was working too hard.

“That was there through my whole career really and it hit a bit of a head at Sat Bains. So much so I called an ambulance at three in the morning after a Friday night shift because I thought I was dying, I thought I was having a heart attack. “The paramedic said ‘what are you doing?’, and I said I’m having a heart attack – he said no you’re not. So, I calmed down a bit and thought I’d best stop being a dickhead.

“He asked me what I did and when I told him he said, why do you do it? And I said I don’t know.”

That incident triggered Tom to move into private work but ultimately he wanted to be back in a professional kitchen.

He said: “When I went to Adam’s I fought really hard to create a better platform there but unfortunately it didn’t go the way I wanted it to – so at Upstairs I wanted to make sure I created a foundation that was better. We have a 4-day week but don’t read in to that too much, don’t think 4 day weeks are 4 day weeks and you’re not doing 18 hour days – because it is actually the days which are the struggle.

“We just try and create a really good balance here at Upstairs.”

Family has to come first

Following on from what Thom said about missing out on going out, Tom explained that he wasn’t bothered about the nights out. It wasn’t until he was older and missing Christmas with family or sacrificing family birthdays, that he started to find it hard.

“I missed the death of my Grandad,” said Tom. ”I was at Sat’s at the time, my dad called me around 5.30pm and said, ’I don’t think Grandad is going to be here after tonight’.

“The whole family were around him at home, as he wanted to be at home and my dad asked if I could come and join them.

“I just said no. I can’t knock on Sat’s door and tell him my grandad is dying and I need to go. I’m not going to say that was a reflection of Sat because it wasn’t, it was my choice. Nothing was stopping me other than myself.

“Were the reasons within that restaurant why I didn’t? I don’t think there was. Do I wish I’d had the balls to say something to him? Absolutely. I regretted it because I got on with my grandad famously.”

Tom is adamant that won’t happen at Upstairs and has said on countless occasions that family comes first.

“Fuck me,” he laughed. “I’ve had quite a lot of nights where staff have asked for nights off for their own reasons, but I don’t want them to miss what I did.

Hospitality is changing for the better

“I joined the industry when it was still macho. It was that sort of environment where you look and think what the fuck are you going on about? It was peer pressure. The head chefs would treat you as they were treated – and I fucking hate that sentence.

“So now, I do the parallel opposite and treat people how I wasn’t treated. Because they never got the best out of me and I want to get the best out of my staff.

“I’m creating a platform which promotes them and doesn’t make them nervous or give them anxiety and make them feel pressurised.

“I want to create a platform where they are going to excel. Which now in 2023 makes perfect sense but in 2003 it didn’t at all - I’m very pleased with the direction the industry is going for sure.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th September 2023

Tom Shepherd: 'They never got the best out of me and I want to get the best out of my staff.'