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The Great Chef Shortage of the 2010's

Posted on: January 7, 2016     |     0 comments

With a skills shortage becoming a crisis, how have we arrived at this point and what happens next?

 

We are officially over the halfway point this decade, and coming into a worrying time from a chefs perspective. We no longer live in an age where a restaurant is a restaurant and that's that, or where chefs work 90 hour weeks and that's that.

This is a time where the hospitality industry has become so heavily fragmented that a greater amount of different skills are needed than at any other point in culinary history. There is a huge amount of styles, techniques, trends & cuisines, all of which can define a chefs career pathway, closing off all others. It is all too easy to become pigeon holed nowadays.

 

When Commis Chefs begin their careers, it's because they've chosen to do so. In all probability, they have seen some brilliant chefs work, been inspired by what they've made, their career, status, even fame & they want to emulate that as far as possible.

The reality of this industry is like many others. There are various entries into it, and various ways to progress, but serious progression in hospitality is something few are willing to make the sacrifice for - Heston Blumenthal got his butt kicked working at Harvey's under Marco Pierre White - Gordon Ramsay left his family behind to go and train in France. Tom Kitchin did the same, as did many others. All for the sake of knowledge & progression look at them now. But the reality is, the majority of chef's will not scale the heights of the heights these guys have and it's easy to become disillusioned by this.

 

Progress always requires sacrifice. If you want to be a great chef, you have to work with great chefs. Learning how to make caviars & foams is a brilliant thing, and great for chefs to know and experience, but on the grand scale of things, the amount of restaurants that have the clientele that are looking for that sort of thing on their plate is relatively low. So to work in an environment where this style is the norm, having to move or take a cut in pay might be required if it is what you want to do.

 

Back to fragmentation, and we find ourselves looking at what customers there are out there. There's your young couples with disposable income, families looking to go out for dinner where the kids get fed well, students looking to keep to their budget, retirees looking for a good meal and plenty more. All this leads to different tastes, different price ranges and different business models - different skills required to meet the demands of the business and the customer.

 

Now, every town has at least one 'branded' restaurant. Some would argue its killing the industry, others that it's necessary and so on and so forth. The fact remains that these restaurants exist and thrive because there is a very strong market to support them, highly competitive but very strong. The skills a chef needs to work in a place to a company spec to keep things even among all branches and yield the same amount of profit/wastage etc. is very different than the skills needed to do a service in a rosette standard restaurant for instance. And so we have a situation where 2 young chefs, who could be in the same class at college, have learned the same techniques and recipes, and yet take 2 completely different paths that are unlikely to cross. The only way to go back on this is to go back to the start & learn the skills required for each discipline and progress that way. Both require discipline, and both are very hard jobs to do for different reasons.

 

The other major factor that is affecting the skills shortage is experienced chefs leaving the industry. It's not a surprising thing really, it is a very physical, stressful job no matter where you work, and that will take its toll on anyone. It's also not the most family friendly industry, with parents sacrificing time with their kids, especially at times like Christmas; it can be a very tough thing to deal with. And yet, it gets done. There are few, if any, careers where people can just completely immerse themselves in the experience, cheffing is that career.

 

For all it does require sacrifice....yes there will be times when you'll miss a birthday or a wedding, and your feet will be sore and probably a bit swollen, and you'll live like a royal for a week and be skint for 3.....it is worth it. When that wedding you've been planning for months goes out without a hitch and you know that you contributed to making someone's special day perfect, when the last table goes out on a Saturday, when the orders are done and there's a bottle of Jagermiester that's been chilling in the freezer for 6 hours, you can't beat it, especially if all of the above happens at once.

 

What are your thoughts on the industry today & the direction it is going? What needs to be done to increase the amount of skills available? Leave your comments below.

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