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Balancing the Grind with Stuart Toon, Head Chef & Co-Owner at Rocker

Stuart Toon is the co-owner and head chef at Rocker Bondi, a restaurant he opened up with Darren Robertson, former head chef at Tetsuya’s and co-owner at Three Blue Ducks.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I actually originally started as a Butcher from a young age working in rural England. My planned career path looked very different, with graphic design being the plan.

Halfway through the first year of my degree I decided to chase the dream and apply for MasterChef UK at 19 years old. Off the back of this I decided graphics wasn’t the way to go.

I started working with Jamie Oliver in the early days and the company grew so fast as did a lot of us who were in the middle of the whirlwind. I got to travel the world with Jamie and was lucky enough to experience and learn so many things.

I’m currently a part owner in Rocker Bondi. The opportunity came up a few years ago to work with a few hospitality legends and I’ve never looked back. It’s been a roller coaster but a fun one!

I opened the venue as the Head Chef but have recently flipped in the last 12 months to managing the front of house and overseeing the kitchen, one hell of a learning curve.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

No two days are the same for me and I love it. The only thing that stays pretty consistent for me is my early morning dog walk and strong flat white. A usual day for me would consist of a bit of time on the laptop to start, preparing for the day ahead, checking orders, rosters bookings, etc.

Work kicks off at 11am with a pretty chilled lunch service, local and regular customers coming in from the beach. We know 90% of our day customers so it’s a bit of a catch up so really it never feels like work.

From 4pm it’s flipping the restaurant ready for a busy dinner service, chatting with chefs and managers about today’s menu, reservations and making sure all bases are covered.

Service normally slows down by 9-9:30pm and as a management team we do a pretty good job of rotating closes. Then home and a bit of Netflix or quite often straight to bed

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Being a service led business it’s quite hands on. There is however a surprising amount of admin work to get through.

One of the biggest parts of Rocker is the culture and keeping everyone happy and looked after. We allocate hours or days for work to be completed in paid time which is something that is so often overlooked in hospitality.

It’s much easier to sit down at home and have a block of time to assign to work rather than doing it stood up in the venue, backwards and forwards to the computer. So, I guess we do kind of work remotely.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me work life balance is everything, I’m definitely not scared of work but for so long I pushed myself so hard. I was always a big believer in “doing it young” going flat out for 10 years and in effect setting myself up to be where I wanted to be.

I currently have a great work life balance, mainly because of the time invested in the culture and the bond between everyone at Rocker. I have the best team working with me and we are all best mates, willing to help each other out where it’s needed.

We all work 4-day weeks, and we all work sensible hours. Merryn our restaurant manager and Ethan our head chef who has been with us from day one, have worked their way up through the business and have a total understanding; nothing would be possible without them.

I’m a big believer in setting goals and allocating time. Nobody can do anything on their own, no matter how good you are. Building relationships, respect and a team takes time. It’s sadly again something that is so often overlooked in hospitality.

Without an investment of energy and time to achieve this, there really is no balance, it’s just a group of people working for themselves and more often than not, hating it. I guess what I’m trying to say is the balance is achieved by everyone sharing a common goal, if everyone works together, everyone gets the reward.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

COVID, a strange time for the whole world, an even more strange time for hospitality. It changed me a lot, it changed our business a lot.

I didn’t work for three months, and I really struggled with it initially. When you work in something you are so passionate in, you never really switch off. Even holidays, you’re on the phone, signing off on decisions, giving advice and fixing problems.

I was boxing a lot and going to the gym before covid, it was part of my routine. I guess it was due to breaking a routine that I’ve committed so much time to over the years. I think for the first time in 10 years, after 3 weeks of not working I actually relaxed fully.

I began to appreciate the freedom of time more; I wasn’t as worried or stressed as I’m so used to having to manage not just myself but a team and their problems. I got a dog, we put so much energy and love into him. It really changed me.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love cookbooks, I tend not to fully read them but just flick through and revisit many times for a more detailed section. I have loved the Deep in the Weeds podcast with Anthony Huckstep and The Pass with Magdelena Roze. I also love the odd food documentary.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I’m on my phone all the time, being a small business, I guess a lot falls with me, just a continuous trickle of calls, messages and emails. I run my life through my diary on my phone too, so pretty lost without it. I quite often find myself scrolling through Instagram, which is in my case just a never-ending scroll of food!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’d love to see more on someone big in tech or finance. I guess I’ve never really been exposed to an office environment and just can’t picture how different it must be. It’s a very foreign concept to me how the day would pan out.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Work life balance is achievable by anyone, but in my opinion in 99% of examples you can’t achieve it on your own. Trust, respect and a common happy goal are all essential to achieving a work life balance, but to get there everyone has to be on the same page.

It was the biggest thing I took away from Jamie Oliver, the culture and passion he created, his ethic and ethos has had such an effect on the industry I love in so many ways, which I was lucky enough to experience first-hand.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.