'Having chefs compete against Michelin-starred kitchen brigades is a heavily flawed concept'

The Staff Canteen

I recently watched the first few episodes of The Brigade on BBC. This was a show centred around Chef Jason Atherton building a team of chefs to compete against kitchens and established teams from around Europe.

I was first drawn to the concept of this show, as it was targeting real chefs, chefs like me. Chefs who don’t necessarily have that Michelin Star/ Rosette experience, but are passionate about being chefs. I thought this was something I could get my teeth in to.

Shortly into the first episode, I started to feel unnerved. To be clear, this is not a TV show review. What unsettled me was the use of language. In our industry which is dying on its ass due to the lack of new chefs coming through.

The show seemed to be doing its best to showcase the hardline, military-like leadership strategies which have seen a lot of good chefs crumble and leave kitchens across the world. Full respect to Mr Atherton and his collection of Michelin Stars.

"Is my own laidback, mild mannered nature holding me back?"

Chef's Brigade 2
Credit: BBC

I don’t doubt his talent and ability. I have no place to judge his cooking or his management style. This was just something which led me to think and consider my own leadership style. Is my own laidback, mild mannered nature holding me back?

I’ve always been a self-proclaimed nice guy. I rarely raise my voice in the kitchens I’ve worked in. I’m all about encouragement and lifting my team up, as opposed to shaming, boot-camping and ruling by fear. But I also don’t have Michelin stars to protect.

Chef Atherton referred to his two other chefs as his Lieutenants on a few occasions, reinforcing the military language. I guess this fits the tone of the show. Handing power to chefs as a reward, while humiliating others with the black jersey of the Kitchen Porter role.

This reminded me of my early days in the kitchens of hotels. Something I look back on and cringe at the thought of the language we used with each other. Where bullying was “banter”. Where any sign of weakness was looked at with distain. “Mental Health” would raise a laugh at its very mention. Oh how times have changed.

These TV shows are designed to entertain. Those who go in for them, usually know what they are letting themselves in for. I just found the process a little washed out.

By this, I mean it oversimplified the process of chef training, skill development and character building. In a way, I wish the show was longer. I wish it involved more training and more simple cookery challenges. Having chefs compete against Michelin-starred kitchen brigades is a heavily flawed concept. But that’s modern television I guess.

To reiterate my point. This is not a pub chef from Ipswich (me), going-in on a Michelin Star chef! I have full admiration for Chef Jason Atherton. Although his clumsy, pigeon English when speaking with other European language speaking chefs did give me a giggle. I guess my issue is wholly to do with the show's concept and editing.

I have big issues with chefs being pushed “to breaking point” for someone’s dinner. “If he breaks, he breaks!” is not a phrase I ever want to hear in a kitchen. Especially heading in to 2020. We can’t expect chefs to be thrown into elite kitchens and be able to produce food on that level. At one point Chef Atherton compares it to coming up from the championship, in to the premier league, against Man City. No. This is only comparable to Ipswich Town under 18s going up against Real Madrid.

I enjoyed hearing the head chefs talk about their restaurants and their own leadership styles. Seeing the inside of high functioning kitchens and witnessing cutting edge cookery techniques, in itself would be a great show. But we already have Chefs Table on Netflix for that.

As the series went on, my respect for Mr Atherton went up even more. We don’t share the same training values, but like I said, I have no awards to protect. I can’t even pretend to understand what that pressure would be like. But my life feels relatively complete without that.

Adding competition and elimination to this concept seems misguided. With so many great cookery shows available to us, this is a real stretch. Maybe I’m missing the point for this show. But if I’m missing it, then surely other young potential chefs are missing it too.

The noise of “leadership” and the pressure of Michelin are evident. Some of the passion and pride of being a chef is lost. The pressure of performance is overwhelming. There are a lot of established chefs who would struggle with this format.

Maybe the next series, they should send a Brigade of TV chefs. Get Ainsley, James Martin, Nigella and Jamie Oliver in there. Lets see how those guys handle it?

That’s just my thoughts. Cheers,

Watch the BBC series here https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m00077h7/the-chefs-brigade


About Knife of Brian

Brian Powlett is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) - a male suicide charity and has recently finished his first pop-up event at the Suffolk Show.

If he wasn't a chef, he would be a gigolo.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian, visit his website www.knifeofbrian.co.uk

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall  – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 16 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 560,000 followers across Facebook, X, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th October 2019

'Having chefs compete against Michelin-starred kitchen brigades is a heavily flawed concept'