Chef shortage: six industry leaders have their say

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

From left to right: Chantelle Nicholson, Jeremy King, Mark Sainsbury and Iqbal Wahhab
From left to right: Chantelle Nicholson, Jeremy King, Mark Sainsbury and Iqbal Wahhab

Related tags: Chefs, Report, Hospitality, Training, London, Restaurant, Industry

The restaurant sector must act to avoid an impending staffing crisis, according to leading industry professionals.

Following a report published by the Centre for London think tank that has found that 20,000 chefs are leaving the profession every year​, a number of key players in the industry have spoken about the challenges they face:

Jeremy King, director of Corbin & King
“Since I came to restaurateuring in the 1970s the image of the profession has transformed. Come the 80s, kitchens were no longer the preserve of the unambitious as they became inhabited with the likes of Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leigh and Alistair Little who brought the intelligence and passion that fuelled the extraordinary exponential rise in the quality of restaurants in the UK. Unfortunately, this century has seen the unfortunate perception of kitchens as being hostile environments and the demands of financial expediency has had a somewhat retrograde effect. It is time that the career seekers of today realise that a kitchen can inspire, bring great satisfaction and offer rewards in what is fast becoming the best of professions.”

Iqbal Wahhab, founder of The Cinnamon Club and Roast
“Restaurants need to break down the image of ludicrously long hours and aggressive work environments as somehow being character building when often the opposite is the case. It’s turning people away from our sector and is tantamount to modern slavery. We also need to recruit more widely from the talent pools around us – whether that’s ex-offenders, refugees or people on benefits.”

Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron at Tredwells and group operations director of Marcus Wearing Restaurants
“We need to be focusing some of the energy on attracting youth to cheffing as a valid and rewarding career path. The sensationalised TV shows do nothing but discourage parents from it being a viable option for their children. There are not many jobs in the world where you see the fruits of your labour on a daily, sometimes twice daily, basis. Being a chef involves many, many skills; cooking is only one. Time management, organisation, team work, problem solving, and creativity are just some of these that create a rewarding and motivating career path.”

Tom Booton, head chef at Alyn Williams at the Westbury Mayfair
“It is always going to be a challenge to find good chefs, but you need to be able to see someone’s potential, and then work with them to bring it out. Training is ongoing, and it is good to move chefs around in the kitchen. Some of our chefs that have been with us for ages have been moved to different sections in the kitchen to keep them interested and to challenge them.”

Mark Sainsbury, partner at Zetter Group
“This report shows that restaurants and catering educators have some work to do. Restaurants need to get better at engaging with colleges and schools, while catering educators must focus on equipping young chefs with the skills and understanding they need to thrive in a working kitchen. But training alone won’t create rewarding and fulfilling chef careers. London restaurants need to be more flexible and responsive to the needs and expectations of young chefs as well as those chefs thinking of returning to the kitchen after a break, especially working mothers.”

Gary Hunter, Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway College
“This report highlights some fundamental issues that require a new collaborative approach to hospitality training. Everyone in London's hospitality and culinary industries has a responsibility to secure the future of our great city's diverse hospitality culture and ensure that London remains a leading gastronomic centre and tourist destination. At Westminster Kingsway College, we constantly engage with employers to support their culinary talent needs and we've been delighted to share our experience and expertise with the Centre for London’s Kitchen Talent report.”

Related topics: Trends & Reports

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