Hiring and retaining chefs presents a bigger challenge to casual dining chains than any issue involving equipment, according to a panel of experts.
Speaking at a panel discussion at Commercial Kitchen 2019, a trio of experts from Wagamama, Las Iguanas and The Restaurant Group agreed that attitudes towards chefs needed to change in order to address the problem.
Steven Mangleshot, executive chef at Wagamama said that attracting chefs in the first place was the most troubling issue.
He said: “I’ll put my hands up now and say it’s still difficult. Getting hold of chefs in this environment which we’re currently in is probably the most difficult thing that we’re going to do. We can talk about kit all day, that’s the easy bit.”
He argued that often once the chefs had been hired and trained, holding on to them was much easier, but that the initial contact was often a struggle.
Simon Xavier, executive chef at The Restaurant Group, said that in order for the situation to change, it was important to end the ‘stigma’ around being a chef and having to work very long hours.
“It’s just that enigma we have with the chef trade where if you’re going to be a chef you’ve got to work seven days a week, your head chef might not be as polite as he should be to you, and you work 60 hours,” he said. “Those days need to change, the attitude to being a chef shouldn’t be intimidation. A chef has a life, he needs to have a couple of days off and if you take that stigma of ‘you’re going to be a chef, you’re not going to see your family again,’ it’s got to change.”
“Getting hold of chefs in this environment which we’re currently in is probably the most difficult thing that we’re going to do”
Glenn Evans, head of food development at Las Iguanas, said that there needed to be a focus on paying chefs well, while also highlighting the importance of apprenticeships.
He added that he was optimistic that the successful reduction of the minimum age for apprenticeships to 16, down from 18, would have a positive effect.
“We’ve been missing out on those two years where it’s compulsory to stay on in further education,” he said, “and I think now we’ve opened those doors, hopefully next year should be able to come back with some better stats and say ‘we’ve gained and retained some youth in our kitchens’, because that is what we’ve been missing in the last four years.”
The three experts were speaking at the Multi Site Kitchen panel chaired by Chris Brazier at Commercial Kitchen 2019.