Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Become A Chef
By Mike James
If you have been pondering a career change and fancy a creative role in the kitchen rather than sitting at a desk all day, there couldn’t be a better time to take the leap.
Chef roles (especially junior ones) don’t come with a particularly good reputation. Long hours, poor pay and getting shouted at have all been an accepted consequence of working in a kitchen. The down-beaten journey of a junior chef at the bottom of the rung has become an expected prelude to any chef’s rite of passage. The kitchen has long been considered a hot-tempered environment. Only thick-skinned people should apply.
With this kind of job advert it’s really no wonder chefs are increasingly hard to come by!
So why is now such a good time to become a chef?
The great British chef shortage
A recent report by Planday claims Brexit wall cause a shortage of at least 60,000 hospitality workers. The hospitality industry is heavily reliant on EU workers and that includes kitchen staff and chefs.
While it is impossible to predict the exact outcome of Brexit on the hospitality industry, there is little doubt that staffing is already becoming a real problem. The industry is suffering an unprecedented skills shortage.
A report in the Observer earlier this year has also reported sceptically about the effects of Brexit, “We are in a golden age for dining out – but now there aren’t enough trained chefs and waiters to go round – and Brexit is not going to help.
Chefs are in short supply. A career move into the kitchen could be a prudent move.
A report by People 1st, The Chef shortage: a solvable crisis? looks at the current trend for restaurants to re-engineer and deskill operations in order to cope with the chef shortage. Menus are being simplified so restaurants can recruit chefs with less experience.
Hospitality cleaning up its act
Food critic Jay Rayner accused Gordon Ramsay of glamorising bullying in the restaurant trade. On Gordon Ramsay’s Top Meltdowns he commented “What a sad, inadequate man. This is everything that has been wrong about kitchen culture.”
The good news for any budding chefs is that change is in the air. Speaking to The Telegraph, Ryan Simpson, who once worked with Ramsay, and now chef at Orwells in Henley on Thames, said that the era of the “chef” is over. Simpson said that he stays away from rude language in his kitchen as it may put young sous chefs off.
He explained: “Bullying is definitely not the way forward. We try to stay away from swearing completely – you don’t get the best out of your kitchen by shouting and swearing.” Simpson is concerned about the reputation the restaurant industry has in an age where even Michelin-starred restaurants are struggling to recruit young workers.
Also speaking to The Telegraph, Theo Randall, head chef at the Intercontinental, said young people need to be nurtured or they will simply walk out.
The culture in kitchens is changing. Lots of good restaurants are getting on board with the need for a sea-change in kitchen attitudes. The Independent reports, “the bakery Dominique Ansel, lauded for its infamous cronut pastries, has reportedly imposed a ban on swearing.”
In the Guardian, Amanda Bootes writes on her experience of working for many years in a range of kitchens across the UK and France. She says the restaurant industry has a culture of misogyny and machismo in its kitchens. This doesn’t make the job of chef very appealing to women.
However, Bootes is optimistic. She says the swearing ban will create a more hospitable environment to work in, and that will help to combat the gender divide.
Asimakis Chaniotis, head chef of Pied à Terre, one of London’s longest-standing Michelin-starred restaurants, believes the kitchen should be a place of “creativity, innovation and serenity.” There is now new hope that commercial kitchens will become places for chefs of all ages, genders and levels to thrive.
Pay, conditions and perks improving
In an article for Big Hospitality, Sophie Witts reports “London restaurant Gauthier Soho has introduced a £1,000 ‘golden hello’ for new recruits, plus up to another £1,000 in monthly expenses, to tackle what chef-patron Alexis Gauthier says is the ‘toxic’ shortage of chefs in the capital.”
Chef-patron Alexis Gauthier is acutely aware of the recruitment problems restaurants face in hiring kitchen staff and chefs. He says “the customers haven’t stopped coming to the restaurant because of Brexit, but the staff definitely have.”
Josh Overington, of Le Cochon Aveugle in York, who represented the north east in 2017’s Great British Menu, is attempting to improve the quality of life of his staff by only opening his restaurant four nights a week.
With good chefs in short supply, there has never been a better time to break into the industry. Chefs are in a powerful position right now. If you have the skills you can be extremely picky about where you work. If you are new to the industry, there is encouraging noise about training opportunities.