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‘It is going to be a big struggle for us’ – Harrow School chef speaks out on kitchen skills shortage

Chefs in kitchen

The executive chef of one of the UK’s most prestigious boarding schools fears the current shortage of kitchen talent could have a lasting impact on the industry.

Sylvain Chevereau, who runs the vast catering operation at Harrow School in London, which is attended by nearly 900 boys, admits a deficit of culinary talent – coupled with the notoriously high turnover of chefs in the capital – makes recruiting difficult.

Research suggests that the industry will require an additional 11,000 chefs in the next five years.

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“I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years now and an executive chef for eight years, including at the school for two years. And yes, I have seen the industry changing, especially in London. It’s such a fast moving place. I think there is a lack of skills and to find good chefs these days is a real challenge,” said Mr Chevereau.

Harrow School currently employs 16 chefs and a handful of catering assistants, providing in excess of 3,000 meals a day via a kitchen operation based over three floors. Although pupils are only in residence for 36 weeks of the year, the kitchens are open all year round for banqueting and commercial purposes.

Mr Chevereau (pictured right) said he has been thinking carefully about how the shape of his team might evolve in future.

“I think the shortage of skills is really going to be a big struggle for us and for the industry in general. I’ve got some team members which have been with me for a long time and are getting close to retirement over the next six or seven years. Creating the right team and bringing in new talent is going to be one of the big focuses.”

Mr Chevereau said he is fortunate that his current brigade understand the importance of quality, possess a real passion for the job and never baulk at the need to juggle multiple tasks or put in hard graft.

“I’m quite lucky, I’ve got a very good team that are prepared to do the extra work, but it takes a lot of love and care, and it takes a lot of time in terms of training, showing them new techniques and explaining why we do certain things. I have seen the change over the last two years, even with the boys at the school – their knowledge of food is showing through and they tell me when something is not what they want, and, you know what, that’s really nice.”

Mr Chevereau, who was speaking during a seminar session hosted by FEJ at Commercial Kitchen, said that sourcing new equipment that would boost its daily processes was also never far from his mind.

“Equipment will always be a challenge – getting new equipment, looking at new technologies and trying to be a front-runner as well making sure we use it to maximum capacity. In the last couple of years we’ve introduced a Frima and that has been a fantastic piece of kit. It speeds up processes that used to take several hours. Anything that saves time and makes the food better is brilliant.”

Tags : chef shortagechefsHarrow Schoolskills
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

1 Comment

  1. Part of the problem is that sadly most peoples introduction to a professional kitchen is coloured by “Reality TV Shows”, which do not show our industry in it’s best light.
    Secondly, very few kitchens actually train the staff to cook. The majority of commercial kitchens now only “cook” on the grill, griddle or deep fryer. The rest is all pre-prepared ding meals.

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