Barely a week goes by without another discussion on the current shortage of chefs or more generally, those wanting to work in hospitality. Many chefs and hospitality leaders have debated this subject with initiatives happening right across the UK to find ways to show what a fantastic career choice the culinary world can offer.
We put this subject to some of our former National Chef of the Year finalists so we could discover what role senior chefs should play in attracting talent. It was inspiring to hear about some of the initiatives taking place to improve the chef shortage and how competitions such as NCOTY can help showcase being a chef as a career choice.
Attracting female chefs
The shortage of female chefs is always up for debate and so we asked Stephanie Coupland from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for her thoughts: “It is important to encourage the next generation of chefs coming through as well as the people you currently work with, so you are always keeping them inspired. It’s vital that as chefs we motivate and support one another. The NCOTY competition raises the profile of chefs and shows what great potential there is in the industry, aside from the day to day work in the kitchen. This competition highlights the ability to network, travel and meet new people. NCOTY is very active on social media and is good at highlighting the work of successful chefs and the dishes they have created.”
Mentor younger chefs
Current finalist, Glenn Evans has used the National Chef of the Year competition to help him attract new chefs to the industry and as a result of his experience is now mentoring and judging Springboard’s FutureChef competition. He told us “This is a great way of being able to develop youngsters of 12 to 16 years old and show them the different paths open to them in the industry, as they don’t necessarily know about these from their schools and colleges. It is also good to teach them the fundamentals of building a menu, sourcing and costing ingredients, and I am lucky to still be involved with that. NCOTY helps show kids about fine dining, when many of them are aspiring to be Michelin-starred chefs. They aspire to be the best and some of the past winners are an inspiration to them. My view is that to attract chefs into the industry it is important to promote that there has been a shift in working hours and flexibility which makes it a more enticing career choice, than the 18-hour shifts that used to be the norm.”
Motivate the next generation
We felt really encouraged after chatting to Nick Smith who revealed the work he’s been doing to both attract and retain talent. “I have just taken on a young girl and she has started showing me dishes that she is cooking at home. She has regained her passion for cooking since working for me and that makes me feel proud. As a head chef, I feel a huge responsibility now for everyone underneath me and I truly recognise the importance of this role. I am also helping mentor a young lad working for me who has started entering some of the pastry competitions that I did five years ago. This is important, as I want to help my team get the same feeling I did. As a manager, I will also benefit by seeing someone else enjoy the moment. My team supported me through NCOTY last year and I should support them in their own success. It is a shared sense of celebration and they are getting as inspired by my own achievements, as I am theirs.”
Changing working conditions
There is often a lot of discussion around the impact of TV and the latest culinary shows to hit the headlines. Does it have a detrimental or positive impact on showcasing the culinary world as an exciting career? Former finalist, Adam Thomason who is currently head chef at Genuine Dining commented: “Whilst I am impressed by the way TV has highlighted the industry and chefs, we need to make sure we also highlight the hard work involved in being a chef, but that it is a rewarding industry to be in. Having a better work-life balance helps and some restaurants are going onto ‘four days on three days off’ rotas which I think are great. NCOTY does play a part in celebrating chefs as it has one of the biggest media presences and is almost a goal within a chef’s career to take part in. Good positions in great restaurants are also important, but you also want to show you have taken part in this calibre of competition too.”
Work with schools and colleges
For those who work outside of London, it can be even more challenging to find the right talent for your kitchen. This is the case for chef, Simon Webb who is now working in Essex and finding it even harder to recruit young chefs as many are still being drawn to London. Simon told us how he has been working with the local college trying to get young guys interested in catering, but he feels more needs to be done to create awareness of industry competitions whilst chefs are studying. He told us: “Many young people know about the TV chefs but not the larger names in the industry and I think this work should be added into courses more to drive awareness of the opportunities that are out there for chefs in the future.”
Inspire future talent
George Blogg who is head chef at Gravetye Manor believes all chefs have a responsibility to play a part in promoting the industry to young people, telling us: “Every industry with skilled workers is having a problem with recruitment and we need to try and promote it as much as we can and help younger chefs learn and enjoy what they do. The younger chefs today question themselves more and have access to massive amounts of data through the Internet, so to keep them in the industry we really need to inspire them. The Craft Guild of Chefs and NCOTY play a big part in driving awareness and it is hugely important as anything people can aim for and aspire to be is great. There are lots of competitions at many different levels out there and they all have their place. Competitions are very different to working within a normal kitchen as they are all about you producing the food in that time slot on the day, but it does push you and enthuse you to achieve great things.”