The White House Hotel Head Chef Shaun McDonald
The White House Hotel Head Chef Shaun McDonald. Shaun McDonald's LinkedIn

A part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, it sits a mere 20-minute boat ride from the main harbour town of St.Peter Port.

With more beaches than places to get a shower, from Guernsey it basks in the sunshine like its many visitors, eventually glowing sunrise red, just like those same visitors who dare forget their suncream. Not a car in sight, and without the need, you can walk around the whole island in about 30 to 45 minutes.

Finding the plentiful campsite is no trouble, and expectedly so, but for some, it would seem an odd place to find a 4-star Hotel, with its own restaurant, stunning views and dedicated staff. It's a dream in summer, but in winter, the cold winds and rough waves of the English Channel can transform it. From a place packed with tourists to a quiet and sparsely populated island.

So what does it take to helm the kitchens in a hotel with Seasonal periods unlike any other? How do you battle the seasons and Mother Nature herself, and still produce the highest quality food?

I spoke to Shaun McDonald, the Head Chef of the White House Hotel in Herm, a man who can offer plenty of insight, having 35 years in the industry across a bountiful resume.

"The main challenge is the weather and sea conditions and getting supplies over to us. This also affects getting customers over and back home! The one thing it always comes back to is the positives of working on Herm far outweigh the negatives."

So even when mother nature turns, the Natural Herm Sunshine seems to be the perfect hook to lay some bait, a place for good food and stunning views, but Shaun isn't overly optimistic, he has a very healthy dash, but with the realism of small island life always watching over.

"We have great ingredients, great colleagues but the biggest challenge is always the weather, if the sun shines people flock to Herm but if the weather is bad, it becomes a challenge."

Working from 7am to 7pm...

Mr McDonald has had a decorated culinary past, being voted Hilton Trainer of the Year and becoming a Head Chef for Hilton Hotels across Bristol, Bath and Newport Port. He's helped train new chefs, passing on his knowledge, and counts his newest position as the Head Chef of the White House Hotel on Herm amongst these achievements, and it was a long path to get there.

"I worked for a bakery as a baker's assistant but was made redundant, so then became a kitchen porter for Mid Wales Hospital, so I worked from 7am to 7pm, then (I) worked behind a bar called The Morning Star Inn from 8pm to 11pm. The pub did evenings from around the world and one of the evenings they needed some baking so they asked me to help. Based on how well the evening went they offered me a position as trainee chef so I quit the hospital and worked for the pub."

Shaun's tale is one from the scrappy starts to the Head Heights.

"The landlord had a very young family and they were getting to the age where the pub life was beginning to concern them, so they quit the pub, the Landlord gave me some great advice that was to apply to a large hotel group because the training opportunities were much better so I did and went to work for Trust House Forte."

With experience comes understanding. The understanding of the role, the responsibility and the reasons to love it, but also the stresses that being a Head Chef can entail, and the personal sacrifices that come with it.

"When people are celebrating, at times when families celebrate Christmas, very often I have to work which puts lots of pressure on family life. Also (when) trying to maintain friendships with people it's very difficult, but the friends I have are very special and very, very understanding."

Despite these sacrifices, the tasty morsels of being a Head Chef do pay off, with Shaun beaming ear to ear as he talks about the Chefs he gets to work with every Season, from different cultures and countries across the globe, and the friendly faces enjoying his work, as visitors grace the island.

So what does Culinary Excellence mean to someone in such a unique position? Like many of Shaun's down-to-earth thoughts, his food hums of home cooking.

"Culinary excellence is how you personally like food. It really does depend on who you are cooking for."

"If you are cooking a fried egg in oil fast and with brown dried-out edges for Joe's cafe or you prepare clarified butter and gently cook the egg on a low heat, basting the top in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it's still cooking to customers taste and expectations and neither method is right or wrong."

"One takes more time and patience and yes skill but it still comes down to the customers' expectations. It also helps to have the best ingredients to start with, the rest is knowledge as to how to put them together."

It may be cliche, but maybe the best way to truly understand a Chef, who can take on the responsibilities of such a unique Kitchen, a place with challenges unlike any other, is to find out what they love to cook. Not what sells, not what gets people through the door, but what they enjoy preparing.

For Shaun, he had to have a couple of options.

"For myself, Bangers and mash with onion gravy, (but for other people) pan-fried Dover Sole with prawn and samphire butter."