Sustainability is top of The National Chef of the Year agenda


The National Chef of the Year mentor day is always a highlight in the Craft Guild of Chefs calendar. Not only is there the hotly anticipated reveal of the mystery basket but it’s an opportunity for us to address some of the biggest issues in the industry. We hosted an inspiring panel discussion exploring all areas of sustainability which provided a huge amount of food for thought.

David Mulcahy is Culinary Director for Sodexo UK & Ireland as well as Vice-President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, organising The National Chef of the Year on behalf of the Guild. Sustainability is a topic he’s passionate about, so he was the perfect choice to host this panel.

We were also delighted to welcome Adrian Valeriano who is Vice-President of OpenTable MEA and he began by saying that whilst sustainability is a fascinating subject, it’s not a new one. He shared some interesting insights from a survey the company had run to build a picture of this topic’s importance in hospitality.

  • Over 66% of restaurateurs thought that one of the purposes of a company should be to create a positive change in the world.
  • Over 86% of restaurant respondents said that they believed that sustainability is either somewhat or very important to their diners.
  • Over 50% of restaurant respondents said that they receive questions from diners about sustainability at least once per month.
  • The biggest challenges for restaurateurs in ensuring their restaurants are more sustainable are cost and staff education.

When OpenTable asked why restaurateurs think sustainability is important to diners, the top reasons were that diners are concerned about what they put into their body and the impact on the environment. Over 70% of restaurant respondents believed being sustainable was a key competitive advantage with reducing plastic/packaging creating less waste and more responsible sourcing being the top things that managers are doing to drive sustainability.

The Future of Food

We were also joined by Alex Hall from Unilever on the panel to learn more about the Future of Food campaign which they have worked on with WWF. Alex felt the key for improving sustainability was communication and education. The partnership had highlighted that 75% of what the world eats today comes from 12 crops and five animals. In the last 100 years we have decreased by 75% the crop varieties we consume so we are eating more of the same thing, and more often. This is bound to have an impact on sustainability. Knorr has worked with WWF and leading contract caterers on this food plan to try and increase the consumption of a wider range of ingredients. Alex believes strongly in the importance of the industry working together and sharing information. He also revealed how he was proud to be involved in the Chefs’ Manifesto, which puts the spotlight on biodiversity. Whenever Alex chats to chefs from across the industry he is constantly shouting about these projects and sharing information that will drive change.

Train and retain staff

Chantelle Nicholson is a chef that’s been leading the way when it comes to sustainability and is an ambassador for Quorn who is a supporter of The Young National Chef of the Year. As part of the mentor day, Chantelle ran a masterclass for the finalists and will be judging the competition next month. She said sustainability is important to customers and if everyone did a little bit more it would make a huge difference globally. Chantelle accepts that chefs have a lot of restraints but it’s about making what they all do that little bit better and changing your attitude is a key part of this. Whether a chef believes in making this change or not its what diners are wanting and so they have to get on board. She makes the time to educate her team and create awareness of sustainability issues, however, she believes the industry has come a long way over recent years. Chantelle has also written a book called ‘Planted’ which is a collection of vegan recipes.

Addressing the chef shortage

Chef Doug Sanham put the spotlight on the sustainability of staff at a time where we are constantly hearing about chef shortages and mental health issues within the industry. Along with Andrew Clarke, he is a founder of the Pilot Light campaign. This focuses on changing the way people think and act about mental health through addressing the industry specific contexts and environments found in professional kitchens and the broader hospitality sector. Doug shared his own moving and powerful story which led to this key initiative. He recognises the importance of checking in on your staff and doing what you can as a head chef to support them. Doug also revealed the importance of getting staff talking about mental health and the power that social media has in achieving this.

A more sustainable future

Paul Mannering, Chef Academy Principal at HIT Training highlighted the importance of apprenticeships in improving the sustainability of staff. He also revealed more about its ‘Don’t Waste: The Future of Hospitality’ campaign. This brings the sector together to utilise its combined resources and support businesses of all shapes and sizes to provide high-quality career development opportunities.

In terms of a more sustainable environment, Paul revealed how HIT has a workshop on plant-based protein and it’s a key element of the commis chef apprenticeship standard. Gone are the days when a consumer asks for the vegetarian option and it seems unusual. People’s eyes are being opened to new ways of eating and chefs need to be able to meet these demands and it be part of the norm. HIT is constantly evolving its offering to meet the changing needs of the industry.

Adrian at OpenTable shared three simple things that chefs could be doing to improve sustainability. This begins with changing mindset and being more open-minded to new ways of working. He then believes that chefs should start by making small changes as this can add up to massive shifts in behaviour. Finally, he recognised the power of partnerships and said he’s a huge believer in businesses working together to move the hospitality industry from A to B.

NCOTY leads the way

Following the debate, we spoke to David to get his thoughts on the importance of panel discussions like this. David believes that The National Chef of the Year has an important role to play in addressing some of the industry’s biggest topics. Chefs are understandably mainly focused on producing fantastic food but by taking learnings from experts such as OpenTable UK, Knorr and HIT Training, they become equipped with insight and rationale that can drive their business forward. We want to add as much to the competition experience as possible and these thought leadership discussions help chefs to understand their responsibilities whether that’s in protecting the planet or attracting and retaining staff for a sustainable industry.

David told us: “Hearing statistics from sponsors such as OpenTable is key to creating a long-term sustainability strategy and this gives chefs more tools to help drive footfall. Hearing insight like this encourages chefs to be more curious and to consider what is important to diners and what it is driving them into different establishments. It was interesting chatting to our YNCOTY ambassador, Hrishikesh Desai as he feels that food brands are developing at a much faster rate than the chefs in terms of sustainability. This means chefs can learn a lot from supporters such as Unilever and the partnership we have with them is very valuable for both the competition and its chefs.”

We’d love to keep the conversation going on sustainability and we always welcome the thoughts of the industry. Please share your own insights using the hashtag #NCOTY and tag @Craft_Guild.

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