Left | Rob Dunne – Head Chef at the New Continental Hotel
Right | Paul Doidge – Executive Chef at the New Continental Group
We hear chefs talk about the pleasure of the palate; about the passion in their prep; the joy that comes from the cry of ‘service’ and the indescribable pride when someone loves what they do.
But what happens when kitchen talk takes a new direction?
The ‘food boom’ should be a joyous occasion for chefs. People eating out and knowing their ‘mustard’ when it comes to great ingredients. Knowing their mind when it comes to food choices. No longer are we as customers ordering the same meals; we are exploring and trying new things and being led by chefs creating amazing menus.
So what could chefs possibly be unhappy about…?
Paul Doidge, our Executive Chef at the New Continental Group is one of the many industry leaders who share very real concerns about ‘ The great chef shortage’; and is working hard to try and solve the fundamental challenge for all hospitality businesses.
So, when we talk about a shortage of chefs with him, he had plenty to say about the matter …
The current landscape…
In my 22 years of cheffing, I am not sure that we have seen such a golden age for dining out. People are not just eating out for a special occasion anymore; they are making the most of spending time together and enjoying great food whilst they make amazing memories.
Yet when I talk about this ‘golden age’ I am filled with sadness and fear; why, because never before have I felt such a woe when I talk about such a happy time for my sector. On the one hand I am obviously elated, on the other hand troubled.
Knowing that people are loving what we do, the passion and energy that we install in every dish is not going unnoticed and customers are becoming more discerning. With an abundance of choice; they are choosing our settings and that is a sensational feeling. On the other hand there is a deep sadness, due to the shortage of chefs and waiting staff in our sector.
The shape of things to come…
In March 2017, we were all captivated upon reading the KPMG report for the British Hospitality Association; it stated everything that we were feeling…worried was the general consensus! Although 10 years from now; the figures suggesting that by 2029 the industry could have a deficit of more than a million workers is in no way good to hear!
We are already feeling the high levels of vacancies. In fact it was said by KPMG that we actually have the highest levels compared to any other sector. And although like in many sectors there is scope to make improvements on productivity, this isn’t sustainable and chefs will burn out. Nor are we (chefs) willing to sacrifice the finished product by cutting corners – we all know that making life ‘easy’ is not what chefs do!
I really can understand why this happens, but what we don’t want to see for our sector is that all the experienced, senior chefs leave the kitchens for the high pay of an agency. Where they become heroes, due to their knowledge, and who can fit in any kitchen confidently and capably. They parachute in and save the day, filling holes and roles to keep chains going and then migrating once again with their knowledge and experience to their next position. These are highly skilled individuals, who don’t only have pure passion running through their veins, and a love for their craft, but also so much knowledge and ability.
What That Could Mean…
If this were to happen, and we were to lose them from our kitchens, younger chefs wouldn’t have the relationships they need to have with a senior, experienced chef. They would not have access to a constant vessel to learn from. We all started with a mentor, someone we looked up to and aspired to be one day; my fear is if we were to lose these ‘mentors’ we would lose the inspiration.
What you then might also have is the commis and CPD level chefs in their mid-career, who see the benefit of agency work and agency hours, being able to take their level of knowledge and make contacts and build their portfolio. This would then create a desperate shortage when recruiting these important, young and ambitious mid-level chefs within the smaller, independent restaurants and settings. Chefs that we rely on in small kitchens.
On one hand, good, experienced Chefs are in a very powerful position at the moment; when you have a skills shortage of any kind, when demand outstrips supply, you have a monopoly. Agency work, or relief cover, becomes an amazing (and tantalising) opportunity to broaden your portfolio whilst earning really good money. But is that sustainable for our sector? With no new, young talent being incubated and captured by the fury and fire of a passionate brigade.
So, where does that leave young people who are inspired by a craft that takes time and patience as well as mentors that need to be present?
Earning & learning…
You always have to look for the solutions. Here at the New Continental Group, we have decided to start sowing seeds for our sector now, 10 years isn’t that far away before the 2029 scary prophecy. We want to make a statement within our sector and ensure that we are working in the direction that we think the future of our craft needs.
City College Plymouth…
Within our Group we have some of the best Head Chefs; with diverse experience, all with their own set of mastery and of course oodles of passion. All lending themselves to being what I class as exceptional mentors. So now, teaming up with City College Plymouth we have an apprentice in every kitchen! There are a number of other amazing settings that offer apprenticeships, Plymouth is a city that is fortunate enough to have a plethora of platforms and springboards that connect people to both a profession they can be proud of; but also a future that is rewarding and bright.
Now, we have four bright sparks all working with sensational Head Chefs who are happy in their roles and rooted firmly in their kitchen! The apprentices are growing, learning and increasing their passion for a profession that they can be proud of for many years to come.
Not only learning all the important elements of being a great chef and learning about great products; but also what it means to be part of a strong team; managing sections and working in a passionate environment.
Our apprentices are phenomenal; with natural aptitudes and a desire to soak up the kitchens in which they work. With this formula and the help of City College Plymouth, attracting and retaining passionate and enthusiastic chefs is going to mean that we have a pool of talent that knows what kitchen life can be for the chefs of the future; and Plymouth will very much be at the heart of it.