Are young chefs being underpaid?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd June 2017

After reports emerged that Pierre Koffmann, who previously held three stars in the Michelin Guide UK, blasted chefs wages and the effect the pro Brexit vote has had on the industry, we wanted to get your opinion.

Last week Pierre Koffmann branded salaries in the UK as “stupid” and compared the living conditions of young chefs in London to that of living in poverty. The news obviously caught a lot of chef’s attention and divided opinion so we wanted to see what you guys thought about the comments and what the industry can do to improve the situation.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, the popular chef said the younger generation earning between £15,000 and £18,000 in London are living in poverty, but a lot of you agree the low salary isn’t just an issue for the big city, it’s larger than that.

>>> Pierre Koffmann warns 'young chef’s salaries are an impossible wage to live off'

On Facebook Chuck Prince said he’s facing the same issue in the states: “Everything costs more and the wages are near the same as 20 years ago.”

He added: “For an industry that has gripped the hearts of the public everywhere the stagnant wages are an abomination.”

Bob Lessard and William Thomson also expressed how it isn’t just London suffering from low wages and expensive living costs.

Others also stated it wasn’t just the younger generation being underpaid.

Jon Page said: “Some places near me only pay £17K for a CDP”. While Paul Williams said: “Thought it was chefs all round?”

A general consensus amongst our Facebook users is that the shockingly low pay threshold isn’t new to the industry, it’s always been a cause for concern.

Michael Stechly wrote: “News flash guys…salary hasn’t changed since the 80’s.”

Pierre quote2Keith Chritisie agrees: “Pay like Michael Stechly says has always been low. Working conditions, owners, etc. all play a part.”

Warren Cohen and his girlfriend Danielle Houlahan have been in the business for over 10 years but have recently taken time out from the industry to travel across Europe.

A decision the couple made in light of the current pay crisis.

Speaking to us on Facebook Warren said: “All too often you hear of chefs working upwards of 100 hours in a single working week and regularly average 70+. I've been a chef for 10 years now and have frankly had enough,” said Warren.

He continued: “The hours involved are long, and that's the problem. The salary chefs are payed wouldn't be so bad if in return they received a fair work life balance.”

But while most felt appalled by the abysmal income others simply advised to accept the wage packet, hone your skillset and move on up the career ladder.

On Twitter, Ryan Simpson, head chef and co-owner, Orwells at Shiplake who recently took part in Great British Menu 2017 said: “Head down and push on! Wages get better so do the hours.”

The feeling was mutual on Facebook, Craig Wood said: “Begin the learning curve which never ends, head down, eyes open, work hard and rewards will come”. And Morgane Laura Quet Troka commented: “Not being funny here, but if you’re good at what you do the low paid jobs won’t last long.”

With Brexit talks still ongoing Pierre also blasted the state of the UK’s economy for why French chefs are avoiding coming to Britain. He also warned that if those from Europe were forced to leave the UK we would see restaurants closing very quickly.
It’s not just the departure of European chefs we should be concerned about, we’re already seeing imported food costs on the rise. A couple of weeks ago Gordon Ramsay announced he was suffering post the Brexit vote and bringing in a team of experts to negotiate cheaper foods prices.

>>> Related: Gordon Ramsay struggling with Brexit food costs - how has it affected your restaurant?

But one of our Facebook followers, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Staff Canteen the low salaries have nothing to do with Brexit, it’s about sourcing cheap labour.

“Every restaurant and hotel I have worked in I have been told the wages are low because of who and where you work for.”

He continued: “I was on a trial for a big chef down in London and was told that the tips go back into the business and that even though I was going to be employed as a CDP and running the pastry section I had to do my first three months as a commis…it’s really not surprising that the industry is going extinct!”

Pierre quoteBut how can the industry change, especially if it’s remained this way for the past 30 years? With the level of skilled chefs diminishing it’s becoming more and more difficult to encourage the younger generation to consider a career in the kitchen making it increasingly difficult to attract a new generation of chefs.

Bobby Saunders is a 21 year old demi chef de partie at Jean Georges at the Connaught, who formerly worked alongside Pierre Koffmann at the Berkley until its recent closure.

“To be the best you need to work with the best,” he explains.

He also believes money shouldn’t be the main attraction, the focus should be on absorbing as much experience as possible.

He said: “A good chef said to me once, ‘if you are good the money will come’, which, in addition, don't run before you can walk!”

Sixteen-year-old Ben Carlton-Gray has just been accepted into University College Birmingham to do the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Apprenticeship scheme where he will be placed in a top Birmingham restaurant for three years.

Speaking about how the industry can entice more youths into the trade Ben said: “I think a higher, more deserved salary would pull a lot more young people into the chef life.”

Although Ben hasn’t experienced what it is like to live off a young chef’s wage yet he still agrees the minimum wage is too low for the long hours and skill involved.

He added: “At the end of the day, it is a very skilled job with nasty hours and hard work conditions.”

But the low wage is a sacrifice Ben is willing to make to pursue his dream so hopefully more young chefs will follow suit and not let the low wage deter them from a career in the kitchen.

By Michael Parker

@canteenparker

*Are you a young chef living off a low salary? Let us know your thoughts on chef's wages by leaving a comment or head over to our Facebook page or follow us on twitter @canteentweets

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd June 2017

Are young chefs being underpaid?