‘If you send your CV in, you’ll get a trial. If you turn up for said trial, you’ll probs get a job. That’s how hard it is to get chefs.’ This is a tweet from Dan Doherty, chef and director at Duck and Waffle. Need it be said this is a disconcerting sentiment? When you see that even the top restaurants are publicly struggling for recruitment, it’s difficult to feel optimistic that things might soon change.
A new solution
The shortage of chef talent coming through the ranks is, of course, nothing new. In fact, the same goes for restaurant staff in general – as Fred Sirieix put it to us recently, you can’t find enough staff, even when the quality and pay of the work available is as good as it’s ever been.
So, what can be done about it? Fortunately, we have people like Fred and Dan leading from the front. In 2015, Dan co-founded, along with food writer and creative consultant Anna Sulan Masing, the TMRW Project. It’s ethos? To support people starting out in the hospitality industry. Ergo, to support the future of the industry as a whole.
Initially, Dan wanted to develop a programme that nurtured chefs working in his own kitchen. With the help of Anna, the programme, now a part of TMRW’s larger agenda, came to fruition as Chefs of Tomorrow. It’s about helping young chefs establish solid working relationships right off the bat. Practically speaking, this involves preparing a course for guests at restaurants around the country, under the wing of an accomplished mentor. The next stop, for instance, is on the 17th July, when young talent from around York each cook their own course at Le Cochon Aveugle, under acclaimed head chef and Great British Menu contestant Josh Overington.
‘Nurturing the next generation of chefs is hugely important,’ says Josh. ‘Not just for the restaurant industry’s growing success, but for our chefs to continue raising the profile of British food and restaurants.’ It’s not just Josh’s restaurant supporting the initiative. This year, Chefs of Tomorrow has toured Charlotte’s W5 in London, and HISPI in Manchester.
Supporting the industry as a whole
But the Chefs of Tomorrow project is just the tip of the iceberg. Once Dan and Anna realised there was a real need – and a real appetite – for improving the prospects of those starting out in the industry, they joined forces with Where The Light Gets In general manager Emma Underwood (then GM of Burnt Truffle). Emma’s job is to spearhead The Switch – essentially the front of house’s answer to Chefs of Tomorrow, where waiters, managers, bartenders, and sommeliers come together for 3-5 days to exchange working environments, values, and feed off other’s knowledge. So far, it’s been taken up by the likes of Tredwell’s, Noble Rot, and Pidgin.
Then we come to the third part of TMRW’s triple threat. ‘Industry Talks’ does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a calendar of panelled discussions, where personalities within the industry – such as delicious. magazine editor Karen Barnes, and ex-Indy on Sunday editor-turned-chef-in-the-making Lisa Markwell – chair a conversation revolving around sensitive and often overlooked issues, like discrimination, and the necessity for ‘Best Female Chef’ awards.
As Fred Sirieix said in our interview, ‘the industry is on its knees.’ While that might be true, the crisis has done a wonderful job of bringing people together – with the help of initiatives like TMRW – to build up a better future. But these projects will struggle to implement their manifestos without others sharing the same values and ideas.
Which brings us to what you can do. For starters, Chefs of Tomorrow are looking for restaurants around the UK to collaborate in hosting their events. It’s an opportunity to be a part of what may turn out to be a revolution in the way employment in the industry is perceived. And get the hospitality sector back off its knees again. Who can argue with that?
Photos courtesy of Ming Tang-Evans