Michelin-starred chef slashes working hours to combat chef shortage

The  Staff Canteen

Michelin-starred chef James Close from The Raby Hunt hopes to take pressure off his chefs and allow them more time to create new and innovative dishes as he cuts working hours to tackle the UK  chef shortage.

In July, in response to the chef shortage, Sat Bains and his wife Amanda announced the restaurant would be changing to a 4-day operation. They hoped it would be a start to making ‘the industry more attractive’. It seems other chefs are looking to follow suit including Michelin-starred chef James Close from The Raby Hunt in Darlington.

From next month he has decided to scrap the weekday lunch service but keep Saturdays, not only to take pressure off his chefs but also to allow them more time to create new and innovative dishes.

James close, The Raby Hunt
James close, The Raby Hunt

“It’s something new for us,” James explained. “I feel pressure to be open every day, as a restaurant you are expected to but just opening on an evening would be perfect so we can concentrate on the night times, deliver an amazing service and dishes with a wow factor. “It’s breaking the mould to say we are going to be open nights only, it’s to help our chefs but also to allow us to enjoy our job and ultimately give customers a better experience.”

As well as increasing creativity James wants to give his staff more time off and believes this way he ‘can rotate the staff a lot more’.

He said: “Doing this job is very stressful, doing every lunch and every dinner it’s a lot of pressure and chefs get worn out. This allows them more time and we get better dishes because they have the time – if they enjoy their job more it benefits the customers.”

He added: “Some lunches we might be full but others there might be a table of two because we are so out of the way. To get ready for service for a table of two to me is counterproductive. When you add it all up and get the bottom line there’s not much we make off lunches.

The Raby Hunt
The Raby Hunt

“We are a small restaurant with not many overheads so we can afford to go this way. To get better as chefs this is the idea we came up with and it is going along the same lines as Sat Bains but he has a development kitchen, we don’t, so this is the way we can try and create that.”

James wants to give his chefs a platform to showcase the dishes they will now have time to create and will open the last Sunday of every month and offer ‘The Development Menu’. Inspired by Attica in Australia, which has a 'Creative Tuesday' and gets a very different clientele on that day, it will consist of five experimental courses which will be completely different to the usual dishes on offer.

He said: “It’s for people interested in trying something new; out of those dishes only two might be amazing but that’s the idea, to find one or two dishes we can then transport back into the main menu.”

He added: “I really want to get the chefs involved in creativity. I want to push us forward and try to become better chefs. It will take away the pressure of having to create dishes which straight away have to go on the normal menu.

Raw beef - The Raby Hunt
Raw beef - The Raby Hunt

“We want the dishes to be 100 percent new and we already know that some of the things we create will probably be rubbish but that’s the whole idea!”

The Raby Hunt is no different to other restaurants around the UK, James feels the pressure of the chef shortage as much as those in charge of larger establishments.

He said: “We do struggle big time. We had a chef come in recently, he did two weeks and then didn’t turn up. It’s very hard to find chefs who want to be in this type of industry at this level because they want to be chefs but then they realise the hours we do and it puts them off. Changing our working week is a way of trying to keep the staff.

“At the end of day we can’t be creative and we can’t be a better restaurant if we can’t keep our staff.”

Details for the first ‘Development Menu’ night will be released via James’ twitter on October 6 so follow him @rabyhunt to find out more.

By Cara Pilkington


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th September 2015

Michelin-starred chef slashes working hours to combat chef shortage