BREXIT CHEF SHORTAGE

For many years I was responsible for the overall teaching and training of young trainee chefs in a college turning out 100s of enthusiastic cooks into the restaurants and hotels of the UK. Now the supply of chefs has apparently dried up with Britain's restaurants facing a recruitment crisis due to higher costs, tougher competition and the effect of Brexit. And things are predicted to get worse.


Fears over workers rights as a result of the UK's exit from the European Union means that restaurants are finding it harder to recruit staff and retain current employees. Currently a quarter of all chefs working in Britain are from the European mainland and it seems the success of the food scene in the UK is dependent upon on an ability to hire leading chefs from Europe and beyond. It seems that owners of restaurants are delaying or abandoning their plans to open new food outlets due to the uncertainty surrounding the future rights of EU citizens working in the UK. This is all on top of the industry already facing a staff shortage. We need to attract 200,00 new workers a year to replace natural loss.

There was already a chef shortage before the Brexit vote and we now see a predicted shortage of over 11,000 chefs by 2020. This shortage also includes highly skilled chefs from India and China, to satisfy the Brits love of Asian food. Yes, we can try to supply the industry with our own home-grown cooks, but the industry still needs access to chefs who have  the knowledge, understanding and experience to teach the next generation. While, I know from experience that colleges, like the Birmingham College of Food can do so much, it is in the kitchens's of the industry that the the young chefs of tomorrow learn their trade. As for for Indian caterers who backed the Vote Leave campaign on assurances that there would be more visas for South Asian chefs, this was a hollow promise, and they now feel betrayed. As a result many curry houses are at risk of closure. Meanwhile, takeaway chains like 'Eat' are reporting a staff and skills shortage too, particularly in kitchens producing sushi and Chinese food. There are real fears that in a post-Brexit environment, chains will be unable to hire the kitchen workers they need.


So what's the position in our own UK chef training establishments? From first hand knowledge and talking to former 'chef-training' colleagues, I know that when young people realise that the chef's job involves long, anti-social hours or that they have to spend year's working their way up through the profession - unlike the false impression given by overnight success seen on MasterChef or The Great British Bake Off - and all for a low salary, they often drop-out of training.

We have to improve engagement, training, salaries and working hours, so at least these young chefs can 'get-a-life' outside the kitchen. We have to attract chefs and give them and their profession respect, like they do outside the UK. It is appalling that after training and with four years experience, a chef de partie, who oversees a section of a kitchen, is only paid £23,000 a year. They are also expected to work a 60 to 70 hour week, and there is no overtime payments when often the job involves many more hours.


It is a very sad state of affairs and something we tend to ignore as we tuck in to our three course Sunday lunch at our local restaurant. Well, post-Brexit, it may not be there much longer!

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