Chris Knights of Young's Pubs on the importance of developing pub chefs

By Emma Eversham contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chris Knights of Young's Pubs on the importance of developing pub chefs

Related tags: Chefs, Chef

Chris Knights, group executive chef at Young's Pubs and Geronimo Inns, launched Young's Chef Academy last year. He feels strongly that developing and recognising chefs within the company will help address the skills shortage and retention. 

Why did Young's decide to create a Chef Academy? 

We were finding that when we did try and employ at commis or chef de partie level they often weren't up to the calibre we'd expect, so the idea was to create an in-house training scheme. The Chef’s Academy effectively gives chefs within our business already the skills and training they need for their job role, but also the chance to gain hands-on experience in the workplace. Crucially though, it had to be something that fitted around working 40-50 hours a week in a pub, so we worked in conjunction with Performance Learning Group to draw Government funding so we could write an NVQ Level 2 in Professional Cookery and an NVQ Level 3 in Hospitality Management to provide the chefs the training they needed.

The academy was also part of a wider project about chef recognition such as awards, chefs forums and masterclasses, which is designed to help us keep hold of our chefs. We want people to want to come and work with us and stay with us, so we're giving them all the reasons to do so. 

How does the Chef Academy work? 

Chefs have to earn their spot on the academy, we don't just give them a place automatically. There's an interview process and cook-off held to choose who we take on. Last year we enrolled 24 chefs on our Level 2 course and 20 on our Level 3 course. We're just about to go out into the estate and get our next round. 

We have to make it competitive and be sure they want to progress, because we didn’t want to invest time resource and money into someone for them to leave three months' later. The whole aim of it is to give chefs the training they need to fulfil their job role and to evolve throughout the years to come to hopefully be the future head chefs of our businesses. 

What kind of investment, both financially and in time, has the academy needed to set up?

Financially I couldn’t put a figure on it, but timewise it has taken up a lot. Writing the academy programme has taken hours upon hours. For me to run one session in our development kitchen I have to write an eight page learning plan to include their key objectives and how it’s going to be reinforced and how we can monitor it. I’m actually now doing my own NVQ level 4 in training, so I’ll be able to deliver the NVQ myself without needing a tutor. Once I've done that we'll bring all of it in-house and members of my team will take it too to be able to train also. 

Why do you think pubs like those within Young’s are struggling to recruit chefs?

Some of it is due to colleges not teaching all the right skills – they teach some obviously, but not all those you need to work in the kitchen, such as how to act and what it’s like grafting anywhere between 60 and 90 hours a week.

There is also the perception now that you don’t need to have spent years at college training either.

There are companies, some of them casual dining brands, who will take the average Joe off the street, give them a book and then let them loose in the kitchen. They don’t need to possess the skills to cook from scratch because the company buys in pre-prepared dishes that can just be stuck on the grill or in the microwave.

A lot of people who would be good chefs are just taking that route because it’s easier – they can work 50 hours a week and get paid £30k a year.  That’s why there’s a lack of skilled chefs at the bottom end of the ladder. 

Do pubs find it harder to recruit staff then because of that perception that they don’t need such skilled staff for kitchens?

I think there's some truth in that. At Young’s we’ve gone through a huge transformation in the last six years with our food. We've brought in a much bigger focus on freshly-prepared individual menus. Chefs create their own menus in-house and are really encouraged to look local with sourcing. 

When they're looking for jobs, perhaps people who don’t look at us in detail just hear we’re a pub chain and think about us six years ago when it might not have been such high quality. Now we’re different, but we have to fight hard to change the perception. 

Last year we created a video last year called Young’s Fresh Seasonal British Food to get out on social media to change the perception for our potential candidates and lose the stigma that the pub industry isn’t that skilled and it has gone some way to helping. 

Looking for your next career move? Then see the Pub Chef opportunities​ currently on offer on our job board, BigHospitalityJobs.

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