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In the spotlight: Ed Vokes from Evolve Hospitality – the official staffing partner of the National Chef of the Year


One of the key focuses for the judges in National Chef of the Year is a chef’s culinary skills and there has been much debate in the hospitality industry about a skills shortage over the last few years. We caught up with managing director of Evolve Hospitality, Ed Vokes to get his thoughts on this hot topic. 

Over recent years there has been a lot in the news about a skills shortage in hospitality, why do you think this is?

I think there are several reasons. Brexit is definitely one but as an industry we cannot use that as an excuse not to address the issue. It goes back to grass roots level and the perception of the industry as being low paid with few career opportunities. We need to change perceptions and make it a desirable career choice for the next generation. There are so many opportunities and such a wide variety of roles. It really is such an exciting and creative industry to be a part of.

Whose responsibility do you think it is to improve culinary skills?

I think certainly it should start in schools and I think relating theory learnt in the classroom directly to the industry gives it a context for the children to understand and link what they are learning to.

Evolve is heavily involved in the Adopt a School programme run by the RACA. We go into schools and teach them about the origins of food, healthy eating and do really fun taste and sensory sessions and a cookery classes with them. We also do a mock restaurant set up and teach them about Front of House roles. Food is such a big part of our lives and I think it should be a bigger part of our children’s education, they are always so engaged in the sessions we do and we love being able to work with primary age children and hopefully inspire some of them to follow a career into hospitality.  

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Tell us about some of the initiatives that Evolve does to improve skills in hospitality?

Having the correct skills set will make you more confident at work and that is really the ethos behind our front of house- training sessions. We have a dedicated trainer who runs sessions daily and covers all areas of hospitality from plate waiting to barista and till training as well as delivering theory about health and safety and allergens. The result of this is that when we send staff out to work they are equipped with the required knowledge and practical skills set to do the job required by the client which in turn will lead to repeat bookings for the candidate and more shifts.

How can we attract more talent into the hospitality industry?

I think we need to make hospitality a more attractive proposition. It is seen to be a low paid industry with long anti-social hours but that is not always the reality, again there are so many sectors within the industry such as contract catering offering very good hours, great rates of pay and really good quality produce to work with. There is a really structured career ladder to climb in the industry and fantastic opportunities to learn and develop and earn promotions. We need to be more vocal about the positives which far outweigh the negatives and competitions like NCOTY are really great platforms to showcase the industry so positively to a wider audience.

What part does competitions like NCOTY play in improving a chef’s skills?

NCOTY is great as it encourages the competing chefs to push themselves to their creative limits and to try new techniques and styles that they might not be able to apply in their day to day working lives. It is a real creative outlet for them to think about all the elements that make up a great dish and that as a sponsor is really exciting to watch evolve as the competition goes along. I have never met a chef who regrets entering the competition and everyone says they have grown as a chef and developed new skills as a direct result of the competition.

How can NCOTY help attract and retain talent into hospitality?

Again, it goes back to the point about perception. NCOTY shows the industry in a great and positive light and highlights to anyone watching how much talent there is in this country. It’s also hugely inspiring to anyone thinking about going into the kitchen as a career choice as all of the entrants and finalists come with their own back stories about where they have come from and are living examples of where hard work can get you. It shows that being at the top of your game is not so elitist, it is something everyone can aspire to. 

When staff are motivated and enjoying work, they are more likely to want to develop and learn new things, what are the best ways for improving staff morale and motivation within a business?

I think the working environment, the managers and the wider team has a lot to do with that. Hospitality is so much about team work both front and back of house and creating a well-managed team dynamic is crucial to success. Service is a team effort and all about communication. If this can be correctly managed and executed, staff will really enjoy their shifts and that will be directly reflected in the service that the customers receive. I also think that giving feedback to staff is so important. If they have done a good or exceptional job then we must tell them. On the flip side if someone was struggling it’s about finding out why and giving them additional training and support. This is so important in retaining staff and feeds directly back into the issue about skills shortage. I would rather take the time to train and develop a staff member than lose them completely, candidates are not disposable commodities and you need to work with them as individuals to get the best out of them.

You are the official staffing partner of National Chef of the Year, why is it so important for hotels, restaurants and caterers to work with a business that really understands the hospitality industry?

Our business slogan is ‘from the industry for the industry’ so being a team of consultants who have come straight from the kitchen or the floor means we know the industry inside out, we have been there and done it shall we say. We ensure that the candidates we send out to Clients have been trade tested and trained to meet the Clients requirements. We understand what it means to a team when they are a ‘man down’ or when someone calls in sick at the last minute and we are on call 24/7 to help and support our Clients with our skills and insight. We understand the pressures General Managers and Kitchen Managers are under and the hard work and planning that goes into executing an event for 500 or running service in a Michelin star restaurant. We are not about putting bums on seats to make a quick buck but about training, skilling and developing an exceptional team of temporary staff to work with and support our diverse range of Clients and working with NCOTY is an ongoing honour for us.

head chef jerome                        FOH Training   BOH1

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