A new approach to young people is key to solving the chef shortage says panel of top chefs

The Staff Canteen

Understanding what young people want and promoting the hospitality industry in a positive light were the key points to come out of last week's chef panel at the Sheffield semi-finals of National and Young National Chef of the Year 2019.

New to this year's semi-final,  some of the judges headed out of the kitchen to take a seat in front of competitors and their supporters to discuss the industry and what the future looks like.

Former Michelin starred chef and restaurateur Mark Sargeant; Northcote Executive Chef, Lisa Goodwin-Allen; Paul Askew chef owner of The Art School; James Mackenzie chef owner of Michelin-starred The Pipe and Glass and Paul Mannering from HIT Training discussed topics including where they find inspiration, their own choices in terms of career and why education is key to changing the outlook on hospitality careers.

paul manning and mark sergeant low res
Paul Mannering and Mark Sargeant

What is important to young people?

Paul Mannering from HIT Training said that some of the best success stories come from the most unlikely places: "People will inevitably find the best way of learning and developing in this industry. We have national coverage, we work with large employers and small independents – it’s great to have that flexibility and work with all these different people in the industry and bring them all up to a consistent level."

Mark Sargeant added: "We all as mentors, leaders and employers need to focus on what is important to young people. They quite rightly want to work 45 hour weeks, they want decent pay and they expect some decent time off at the same time as learning to cook fantastic, quality food.

“I think people should be allowed to not want to work 90 hour weeks anymore. Unfortunately we are in a cycle which is fairly unbreakable when it comes to recruiting enough chefs to keep up with demand."

Lisa Goodwin-Allen agreed: "If you are working chefs on reasonable hours it’s sustainable and they are happy. You keep them longer and they produce better food – if they are not happy it delivers in your end product and the food is not as good."

Is education the key?

Moving on to education and working with children in schools, Paul Mannering said: "We do a lot of pop ups with schools, we hijack their food tech lessons but I think we could do more of it as an industry because actually there is very little accurate advice at school. If you can get their interest at that age when they are thinking about careers you can then make those links with more employers and get them to take a young person on straight from school."

James Mackenzie said: "It’s also about changing the attitudes of the parents and getting them to encourage kids by saying ‘go into cheffing or catering because it’s a really good career’. Everybody here has a responsibility to shout about how good the industry is and how positive it can be.

james mackenzie low res
James Mackenzie

“I speak to a lot of people who run businesses in other sectors who encounter the same problems as us – that means their needs to be a culture change across the board in the way people employ staff. We’ve all got the positive attitude that we want to change things but I think everybody needs to be involved."

Mark told the panel: "I find judging Young National Chef of the Year and National Chef of the Year very inspiring. Young chefs these days are a different breed, their knowledge and passion for ingredients is incredible.

"As a young chef it was hard work working with Gordon Ramsay for 13 years but it was amazing. It was an incredible time, it completely shaped me and I met brilliant people along the way. I don’t condone those sort of kitchens at all and I don’t even think they exist now – everything has shifted."

We must champion young chefs

Paul Askew is a big supporter of championing young chefs and especially those within his own brigade: "I’m looking at bringing in apprentices and young people locally to try and develop them. But equally I can still learn something from a commis chef - you have to keep an open mind and you have to keep building their confidence.

“In kitchens of old a lot of young chefs would be suppressed, they couldn’t go up through the ranks because chefs above them were a little self indulgent and looking at self preservation rather than advancing others. But actually the enrichment of a good brigade and the industry is about pushing people forward to make yourself look good! It’s very rewarding."

lisa allen%2C paul askew and james mackenzie low res
Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Paul Askew
and James Mackenzie

James is also keen to encourage youngsters and said: “I’m a great believer in bringing young chefs on, there are so many employers out there who moan about what is coming out of colleges but what are they doing to help? I set up a competition a few years ago called the Golden Apron Competition which is open to 14 to 19 year olds. We are trying to capture those young cooks in schools who may not have chosen a career and even if it’s only one more person who comes into our industry I feel like ‘job done’.

“The kids who enter get to see there’s more to this industry than cheffing, there is a whole development side to it and service so they don’t have to think cooking is the only route to go down.

“Competitions are important, look out for them and even if you don’t win it’s the exposure you get and the people you meet which may help shape your career.”

Where do chefs get inspiration from?

The panel moved on to inspiration and Lisa Goodwin-Allen said: “The biggest inspiration for me is my family, everything you do in your craft and your career it’s down to hard work and determination. My parents have had a business for seven years and it all came from guts and hard work so my determination stems from that and the philosophy that you get out what you put in.

“Inspiration is all around you, sometimes you have to step away and broaden your horizons to see what’s out there and think about what you can do differently and how you can achieve it.

“We work at such a hard pace all the time, trying to achieve a high level so we always have our heads down so sometimes it’s good to take a step back and breath. 

“There is so much out there to learn from, for example Netflix The Chef’s Table or The Staff Canteen, show you what people are doing all around the word, the techniques and they can help you a little bit along the way."

paul manning%2C mark sergeant an dlisa allen low res
Paul Mannering, Mark Sargeant
and Lisa Goodwin-Allen

Paul Askew agrees and says travelling is his his biggest inspiration: "Studying different food culture in different countries – some of the best food I’ve ever had was satay cooked on a street corner by an 11 year-old in Singapore. You just have to open your mind to all of those flavours and inspirations, it’s all around you.”

James Mackenzie said: “One of the things I looked to for inspiration was cookery books. It’s about being interested in what others are doing and no one has an excuse now – they are always on their phone looking at food on social media and it’s not just in this country, you can see what chefs are doing all over the world. You have to be interested in your craft, pay attention to what you have been told at work and give things a go. Things might not work out but we all make mistakes and it’s important to learn from them."

How important it is to learn the business not just how to cook?

Finishing the discussion the chefs made it clear how important it is to get an understanding of running a business as well as how to cook great food, Paul Askew said: "When you are learning how to put the best food you can on to a plate you don’t always focus that much on what it means to run the business. If we are going to make the business better  so we are able to employ people on less hours and still be able to afford everything, we need to be learning business skills at an earlier age.

"We need to teach and equipt the head chefs of the future with these skills."

And closing the panel Mark said: "I started as a chef and I’ll always be a chef. All my businesses are run from a food point of view but there is so much more to running restaurants than food.

"We’re in an incredible industry and young chefs should become customers more – chefs go in their kitchens, heads down and they plate everything up but they need to follow that plate to the customer. They need to sit down as a customer and eat and look around in your own restaurant because then you can see everything which is going on around you.

"Finally don’t get so intense, at the end of the day all you’re doing is cooking someone’s tea! Just enjoy it and relax – this incredible industry will continue to grow so have fun with  it."


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th June 2018

A new approach to young people is key to solving the chef shortage says panel of top chefs