With stricter immigration rules leaving the Asian-orientated casual dining sector increasingly hampered by a shortage of specialist chefs, Cobra Beer has invited some of the industry's top names to share their expertise around the country.
Those taking part include Alfred Prasad (former executive chef at the Tamarind Collection), Vivek Singh (executive chef at the Cinnamon Collection), Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL (chef proprietor of Café Spice Namasté), Mehernosh Mody (executive chef at La Porte des Indes), Vineet Bhatia (Vineet Rosi), and Atul Kochhar (Benares).
Over the next few months the chefs will be sharing their expertise with hundreds of their contemporaries nationwide, focusing on core skills such as understanding ingredients and suppliers, the fundamentals of cooking, menu planning, kitchen organization, and communication skills.
Over 250 restaurants have already signed up to the initiative, which was successfully trialled by Alfred Prasad in select restaurants in and around London earlier this year.
Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer, said: “We know from speaking with many ethnic restaurants that there is a real shortage of skilled chefs in Britain, due in part to our rigid immigration laws, which is why we decided to coordinate a national skills-sharing initiative.
“With the support of some of Britain’s most distinguished restaurateurs, we hope to equip chefs up and down the country with vital knowledge and confidence to produce the highest quality, delicious food that the British people love.”
Prasad said his trial sessions had proved the concept was ‘fantastic’ and an opportunity to give something back to the grassroots of the industry, now worth almost £4bn to the UK.
“Cobra Beer’s initiative is a brilliant idea to help collaborate, network and bridge the gap between sections of the Indian restaurant industry in the UK. It is focused on the needs of the curry houses and the struggles they are currently experiencing. For some, it is a case of evolving to the next level,” he said.
Singh, the restauranteur behind The Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen, said he hoped the initiative would provide encouragement to the younger generation.
“I wish to inspire the next generation of Indian chefs by highlighting the importance of fresh, seasonal ingredients, combined with both traditional and modern cooking methods. It’s fantastic to imagine what a curious soul, an open mind and a big heart can achieve,” he said.
“The Cobra Beer skills-sharing initiative is a fantastic programme to boost the ethnic restaurant community in Britain and I look forward sharing my experiences with the participating chefs over the coming months.”
Changes in immigration rules made under the former coalition government have barred all but the most senior foreign chefs from entering the UK. Work permits are only given to those classified as 'highly skilled, earning around £30,000 a year and that speak English.
Skills shortages across the industry continued to worsen this year, with businesses struggling to fill nearly half of all chef vacancies.
According to a report by VisitEngland, the lack of skilled chefs could limit the growth of 'foodie' tourism in the UK and halt future economic growth in the sector.