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Overseas chefs help fill British shortfall

THE shortage of adequately trained chefs, particularly at chef de partie level, is becoming so acute that many restaurateurs and executive chefs are regularly looking abroad to recruit personnel.

“I’ve just been interviewing chefs from Australia and Germany,” Michael Coaker, executive chef of London’s May Fair Inter-Continental hotel told Caterer last week, adding that in his opinion skill levels have declined markedly over the past five years. “These days I’m having to employ people of demi-chef de partie standard at chef de partie level.”

Out of London many chefs report a similar story. In Cornwall, Sam Harrison, general manager of the renowned Seafood Restaurant in Padstow (owned by Rick Stein, winner of the Chef Award at this year’s Cateys) said: “We’ve recently run a series of advertisements for a senior chef de partie and we’ve only had two responses – both from commis.” The Seafood Restaurant often recruits staff from Australia where Stein has good industry contacts.

In Manchester, Paul Kitching, head chef of one-Michelin-starred Juniper restaurant, describes skills levels as “desperate”, and in Edinburgh, where the Balmoral hotel’s executive head chef, Jeff Bland, has a multi-national brigade, skills shortages are equally lamented. Bland’s brigade contains chefs from Germany, Australia France and Barbados working alongside UK nationals.

Kitching and Bland identify good pastry skills as being especially rare. “Ten years ago a chef-pƒtissier would have been able to make puff pastry – now you have to teach them the basics,” said Bland, who blames Edinburgh’s burgeoning restaurant industry for exacerbating the situation. “I believe more than 100 new restaurants and nine new hotels have opened in Edinburgh in the last 12 months. For any industry, to be able to pull the number of staff required for those properties out of a hat is impossible.”

by Joanna Wood

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