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The big question: Are migrant chefs really tougher than British ones?

11 September 2013
The big question: Are migrant chefs really tougher than British ones?

Earlier this month, Jamie Oliver claimed that British employees are ‘wet behind the ears', that his restaurant would close without the tougher immigrant workforce, that he is frustrated by the lave of drive shown by British chefs and thay they can't handle the long hours. Is he right? We asked a panel of professionals from across the industry

Matt Worswick


Head chef, Glenapp Castle

Rob McMillan
Executive chef, Pubs of Distinction
There are many aspects to this. If I put an ad up tomorrow morning I will have 60-70 candidates for a chef de partie job. Probably out of 60, maybe two or three would be British. Of that three, one might actually turn up to the interview. It should be an attractive industry in this country and it hasn't been for a long time.
The three or four British guys I have work as hard as anyone else. But it is a question of how many are willing to come through the door. If you are 18 and you are living in your parents' four-bedroom house in leafy Surrey, then maybe the motivation is not there.
Perhaps it is different if you are coming out of a working class village on the outskirts of Warsaw. Then again, 50% of the workers that I take from Eastern Europe will have ambitions to do different things and will do it as soon as they learn English. They won't get an interview with me because I am not looking at someone who wants to learn English - I want someone who wants to learn to cook or become a great front of house manager.

Dave Ahern
Consultant head chef

Jamie Oliver is not going to attract many hardworking chefs to his kitchens. No one who wants to be a three-Michelin-starred chef at the age of 30 is going to think "Right, I can go to Jamie's Italian and open jars of sauce all f***ing day".
You don't, with some exceptions, become a top chef without passing through top kitchens. KPs of 16 or 17 years of age who want to be the next Jason Atherton or Marcus Wareing are going to do 70, 80, or even 100 hours a week in much higher-pressure environments and, to be fair, probably for less money than Jamie pays his people.

Steven Smith
Chef patron, Freemasons at Wiswell

I don't agree that migrant chefs are better. Young chefs in general don't have the mentality or the work ethic. My partner, who runs the front of house, is Polish. She is 31 years old, has a very hard work ethic and is very committed, whereas the new generation coming through just doesn't have that same attitude. I think it is a worldwide problem. It has changed 100% since I started out.
The boys and girls that are coming through the door don't have to work at 17 or 18 to get some pennies in. The sad thing is that we really do try and keep the English pub side to our business, which is very important to us, so we do encourage English staff, but they just aren't there. I also think it is unfair that we have to pay 20% VAT as opposed to other countries. You can't have the quantity of staff that you need. If we could put 5-7% of that into wages, it would be a lot of money each year and then people wouldn't have to work the hours they have to.

ANON
Head chef in a busy west London gastropub

I would like to slap Jamie for what he said because I think it is outright madness. Every English chef I have ever worked with has been a grafter. Chefs in Britain do it as a career rather than a job - and they graft harder than anyone. I have been working for a long time and I barely do less than 80 hours a week.

Alan Irwin
Head chef, the Vine Restaurant, Sevenoaks, Kent

I think Jamie Oliver is right. TV exposure makes young chefs think it's easy to get to the top and earn big bucks, but the reality is far from that. There's also far too many restaurants in the UK run by Mickey Mouse employers who think it's quick money - the reality is it's bloody hard work and sacrifice to even earn a decent living.
How can we attract young chefs when
most people pay £15,000 a year for what is supposedly a 45-hour week that always turns into more than 90? To European workers £15,000 sounds great. That's not our fault either - we have to pay so much to the Government on salary we have no option.

Mark Manson


Owner, Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthen

It's easy to make the kind of generalisation Jamie Oliver has made, particularly in light of his glib comments regarding poor people's diets. The reality, to me, is that employees are individuals and managing our expectations of them as employers requires a tailored approach. Coupled with this it is incumbent on employers to be open and honest with employees as to what they can expect.
If an individual has enough ambition to uproot themselves from their home country in search of betterment, are they not equally likely to be driven in a career? Our responsibility as employers includes the obligation to encourage motivation and drive in our employees and to develop that which already exists. Select for these qualities when hiring and develop these through training.

Stosie Madi
Chef, Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland

I completely agree with Jamie Oliver. The majority of teens today are unwilling to work. Migrant workers have a different work ethic. Some 18-year-olds quit a 20-hour-a-week job because they are too tired. Parents ring in to explain they won't make it to a shift or that they will be quitting. How can the next generation evolve and develop as a future workforce when parents cushion them? Most teens that worked in my kitchen who progressed on to university have come out with a bad degree and are on the dole or part-timing with me. Others are being subsidised by parents. Young Brits are more than capable of working in hospitality.

View from Twitter

@Hulstone Just checked behind my ears. They are dry.

@ChefDamianW All is about money and hours. If you want to work hard, learn & achieve success this country offers an #OPPORTUNITY.

@_nick_bennett Doesn't matter really as long as you put the hours and effort in. It's down to the individual. Brits are more precise in my exp.

@rabyhunt Not many chefs out there with real determination.

@ArtichokeChef Down to the individual, but a definite swing towards lack of grit amongst the new generation.

@_Jack_Smith Why should they have to work those hours in this day and age? Other countries have stopped it. Just another way to look at it.

@Hugh6303 He is arrogant, what about all the kids @15!! Then he wants to pontificate about making cheap meals
to massage his inflated ego.

@nick1975 I think so in some cases. We employ a lot from Eastern Europe.

@hotspur71 Started seeing a change in mid 90s at my old college. It seemed a lot were there just to do something - you need to have a passion.

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