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Solution to ‘ethnic skills crisis’ lies in training more UK chefs, says restaurateur

By Luke Nicholls , 15-Jan-2014
Last updated on 16-Jan-2014 at 11:07 GMT2014-01-16T11:07:46Z

Salt’n Pepper London is the first overseas outlet for Mahmood Akbar's 30-year-old restaurant group

Salt’n Pepper London is the first overseas outlet for Mahmood Akbar's 30-year-old restaurant group

The owner of a new Pakistani restaurant in London has dismissed fears of the looming ‘ethnic skills crisis’, claiming he would rather hire UK-based chefs than those from the Indian subcontinent.

Mahmood Akbar, who opened the first UK branch Salt’n Pepper in the West End late last year, says it is easier to train UK chefs in Pakistani cuisine than to bring foreigners up to the required level of food hygiene and safety standards.

“We didn’t bring anybody from Pakistan for our London branch,” Akbar told BigHospitality. “If you do bring someone from there, they might know the cuisine in a better way but they will not come up to the level of safety standards and food laws that are required here.

“I would rather hire people from the UK who are in the field and can be trained to specialise in our cuisine. In my opinion it is harder to bring someone over from Pakistan and try to train them to UK standards of hygiene and safety.”

His comments come less than a week after BigHospitality reported about the development of the Mastara Chef Apprenticeship initiative, which aims to combat the tightened immigration laws by training up more UK-based chefs in Asian cooking.

The coalition Government’s change in immigration rules has closed the door on all but the most senior chefs hoping to join the UK restaurant industry; work permits are now only given to those classified as ‘highly skilled’; that earn about £30,000 a year and can speak English.

Gap in the market

Akbar opened the first UK branch of Salt’n Pepper - a 120-cover restaurant situated just off Leicester Square - last September, offering a modern take on authentic Pakistani cuisinewith regional influences from the Punjab, Sindh and Persia regions.

The restaurateur established the business over 30 years ago and has since developed 10 Salt’n Pepper sites in Pakistan. He is now looking to exploit a ‘gap in the UK market’ and further promote Pakistani cuisine, claiming the London branch will be the first of many.

“I think there’s a big market and a real need for more Pakistani restaurants in the mid-market,” he added. “The idea of Salt’n Pepper coming to London was not to just open one restaurant and sit back - we want to expand in other areas of London and other parts of the UK.

“Any large city in the UK would be ideal for us – the whole country is so geared for curry, Brits love this cuisine so any area would be ready for it. We’ll have to work out the exact timeframe for expansion but the intention to expand is definitely there.”

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