Asian restaurant operators welcome migration reprieve for skilled chefs

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Restaurant, Employment, Uk

Some of the UK's leading high-end Asian, Oriental and specialist world cuisine restaurant brands have welcomed news they will be able to continue to employ non-EU skilled chefs
Some of the UK's leading high-end Asian, Oriental and specialist world cuisine restaurant brands have welcomed news they will be able to continue to employ non-EU skilled chefs
UK restaurateurs serving Asian and specialist world cuisines have welcomed news they should be able to continue to employ skilled chefs from non-EU countries.

As reported on BigHospitality earlier this week,​ the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published the findings of a Home Office-instigated investigation into the occupations currently considered to be at shortage.

There had been widespread concern in the industry​ that chefs would be removed from the list which would have stopped any non-EU chef from entering the UK and effectively halted future UK growth of high-end brands including Hakkasan, Zuma, Roka, MW Eat and those created by renowned restaurateur Alan Yau.

Allaying those fears, MAC said the UK Border Agency should allow businesses to employ a number of chefs earning more than £29,570 from countries outside the European Economic Community.

However, while the independent body continued to recognise the need for the sector to recruit the top chefs from around the world, it said the empirical evidence it had received was ‘not strong’.

There is a danger the industry could therefore have to fight the campaign again in the future with stronger evidence.  

Danger

Speaking to BigHospitality, Rachel Woolstone, group human resources director for the restaurant group headed up by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney, said the findings were an unqualified success for the UK’s booming specialist cuisine sector.

“For us a company, we are really pleased,” said Woolstone. “What we do really well as a company is we employ people at the top and coach and train people at the lower levels.”

Becker and Waney are currently preparing to open a new restaurant – Oblix​ – in The Shard and are also planning further development in the capital for their Roka brand, something which Woolstone said would have been put in danger had chefs been removed from the list.

“It is the influence of everybody getting together,” said Woolstone, referring to a campaign launched by the country’s leading world cuisine operators to lobby MAC.

Hand tied

Maurice Abboudi, the restaurant consultant behind expanding Japanese concept K10, also told BigHospitality the decision was a victory for common sense and would keep London, in particular, competitive.

“We will be able to maintain and extend our position as the number one restaurant city in the world without one hand tied behind our back.

“It will allow us to continue to serve the most authentic food available. It will allow a generation of young chefs to learn exactly how a dish should be prepared.”

Hampered

In the build-up to the announcement, operators told BigHospitality and Restaurant magazine’s Joe Lutrario​ that the consequences of stopping non-EU chefs from being employed would have been severe.

MAC appears to have been swayed by their arguments.

They revealed People 1st​ had told them 39 per cent of the hard-to-fill vacancies within the country’s hospitality employers related to chefs, a situation more acute in the Asian and Oriental sectors.

The organisation was told there were now 346 Japanese restaurants in London alone in 2011 compared to 118 in 2002

One employer reportedly told MAC it had put expansion plans on hold as a result of four vacancies which it could not fill.

UK workforce

However, the industry may well find itself in another future fight to keep skilled chefs on the list, which is meant to be only a temporary fix to a problem.

MAC mentioned the difficulty restaurants had quoted in training the UK workforce and developing skills through apprenticeships. It also acknowledged the slow uptake in interest in the newly-launched Centres of Excellence in Asian and Oriental Cuisine.

Woolstone revealed her company was already involved in educating UK staff and would be making further announcements in this area this year. However she said she did not foresee a time when high-end brands like Zuma and Roka would not need to employ anyone from outside Europe.

“It is an innate palate,” she explained. “I couldn’t be a sushi chef because I haven’t been brought up within the culture. Our head sushi chef is from a line of sushi chefs – his great grandfather was one. There aren’t many of those people out there.

“Whether it is a curry school, a sushi school, classic French or British cuisine, what we need support with in this country is giving great publicity about what the hospitality industry does and what great jobs there are within the private sector.”

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