10 Minutes With: Sean Pleasants at The Devonshire Arms

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th May 2017

The Staff Canteen spoke to Sean Pleasants, head chef of the Brasserie at The Devonshire Arms, which holds three rosettes in the AA Restaurant guide for its Burlington Restaurant, about dealing with the chef shortage in a rural location and his advice on how to tackle it.

Sean has been at The Devonshire Arms since 2009 but his previous experience includes the former Headley’s in Keighley and The Old Tramshed in Shipley. Sean arrived at the Brasserie as a well-trained commis chef. He has since risen through the ranks, working as pastry chef, chef de partie, and sous chef, before being appointed head chef last year.

The Devonshire Arms
The Devonshire Arms

“It’s a hard journey, but I love it," Sean said. “I learnt from every chef I’ve worked with, especially from former chef patron Alan Hill and former head chef and 2012 Roux Scholar Adam Smith within The Devonshire Hotels Group.”

Now that Sean is head chef, he is facing a difficulty many in his position have battled with: staff shortage.

>>> Related: The Burlington Restaurant tackles the chef shortage as it announces a 4-day working week

“There is definitely a shortage of talent and not a lot coming through from the colleges. Too many chefs are going to agencies these days because they are less interested in fully engaging with a particular establishment and are simply there to earn money.”

However, chefs aren’t always after financial compensation. A study by Chef & Yöung found that a chef’s job satisfaction could be significantly improved if he could learn from new chefs, which is why chefs tend to move from restaurant to restaurant and focus on busier cities such as London.

Sean Pleasants quote

>>> Related: Time to Rethink the Future of Restaurant Staffing to Tackle the Chef Shortage

“One of the challenges with a rural location such as ours is that the public transport links are poor, especially late at night," said Sean. “This can curtail the social lives of young team members. Sometimes it is too quiet for some people, certainly if they like the hustle and bustle of city life!”

Martin-Christian Kent, executive director of People 1st, noted that 'many of the chef opportunities that are available locally have limited culinary scope, which doesn’t allow them to use their skills' which could be demotivating.

>>> Related: Chef Shortage: 11,000 chefs are missing – the causes and possible solutions

Despite this, Sean felt that the restaurants he had worked in have always given him the opportunity 'to keep learning' and 'to grow knowledge and experience without having to travel."

Trio of Wharfedale Pig Glazed   Pork Belly%2C Black Pudding Sausage Roll & Homemade Scotch Egg by head chef Sean Pleasants at The Brasserie at The Devonshire Arms

Trio of Wharfedale Pig
Glazed Pork Belly, Black Pudding,
Sausage Roll & Homemade Scotch Egg

photo credit – John Garron

“Progress within the kitchen enables longevity within the role," Sean explained. “It helps the restaurant in the long term as staff retention will increase and turnover decrease.”

According to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, over the last three years, there was an increase in the demand for chefs as the restaurant industry in the UK has boomed along with the UK’s hospitality industry. 

By 2020, the industry is forecast to open between 388,000 to 524,000 additional jobs, and in accordance with this growth, The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs anticipates chefs to be in the highest demand.  

But what can businesses do to attract the next generation of chefs and cooks?

Sean said: “Offering staff accommodation really helps. We have a range of high standard staff properties close to the hotel, and these are shared houses which can help with the feeling of ‘community’ and good for those new to the area. We also keep hours reasonable to help with the welfare of the team, and we pay our kitchen staff hourly so that the pay is fair for the work put in and hand over all the service charge benefits from the customer’s bills.”

As for budding young chefs, Sean’s advice is: “Find a kitchen you feel comfortable and valued in, which gives you the opportunity to learn under experienced chefs, and never give up, never stop learning and opportunities will open throughout your career.”

by Thao Ly Nguyen

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th May 2017

10 Minutes With: Sean Pleasants at The Devonshire Arms