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Why German chefs win more Michelin stars than their British counterparts

20 April 2016 by
Why German chefs win more Michelin stars than their British counterparts

Chefs in Germany win "significantly more" Michelin stars than their British counterparts because they place more emphasis on industry training and apprenticeships.

That's according to a new study by the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Cambridge.

It found that British chefs have a significantly harder task building a coherent staff essential for the consistently high quality implementation of their ideas than German chefs do.

In 2013, Britain had 162 Michelin stars, as compared with 255 in Germany, despite the similarities between the two countries.

In addition, the rate at which restaurants had lost stars or closed between 2002 and 2009 (when the study began) was almost twice as high in Britain as in Germany.

Having established the difference between the two nations, Professor Christel Lane of Cambridge University and Dr Daniela Lup of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) interviewed 40 Michelin-starred head chefs in both countries to explore why the gap existed.

Chefs from both countries strongly emphasised their personal creative-artistic identity. Nearly all the chefs said they find creativity and inspiration away from their restaurants, not from their staff. Creativity from the staff was actively discouraged by many chefs, British and German alike, with a British one-star chef saying "I don't want any under me to be creative." Another confessing to having "reined back" a sous-chef who tried to assert his own innovative ideas. The emphasis, instead, was on consistently high performance with the head chef checking every plate that goes out.

However, the researchers found, that in the kitchen, the head-chef is "not an artist any more, but becomes part of an organised group whose only goal is the production of perfect dishes and service." Discussing the military discipline required for this, some of them admitted to "an authoritarian style" and confessed that they "shout, swear or even engage in some low-level violence".

However, despite some similarities in recruiting criteria, there were differences in the way in which brigades in the two countries were constituted. The paper noted: "Employees in Germany are predominantly German-born or from German speaking neighbouring countries. In contrast, those in Britain are of highly diverse national origins, with about 60% being non-British. Diversity has adverse consequences in terms of a reduced ease of communication and a lesser degree of social cohesion which, in turn, increases labour turnover rates", which many British chefs lamented.

In Germany, however, chefs said labour turnover was less of a problem because most staff work at their restaurants for long periods.

And a second major difference between the two nations was the level of training and skill. Of the 20 British head-chefs interviewed, six were self-taught, whereas the Germans all had the basic apprenticeship qualification and 30%, a master craftsman qualification. The same differences occurred in the brigade staff. German head chefs emphasised that they "valued a solid CV that showed training and apprenticeship with a renowned chef" whereas "British head-chefs placed a high emphasis on more subjective criteria, such as the quality of the person," rather than formal training.

The report suggested that this had an adverse effect on standards in British restaurants, noting that while it is possible for the head-chef to train new employees to the required standards, "such a task becomes impossible with a high turnover."

The researchers pointed out that in Germany there is more of a tradition of craft with its emphasis on training and apprenticeships with a national, legally binding curriculum, whereas in Britain "fewer people are formally trained as chefs, the training is done in colleges and is variable in quality".

They also noted that Luc Naret, the former chief executive of Michelin Publishing, recently commented that "the best chefs in Germany cook today in the way Germans build cars: on an absolutely perfect level."

Professor Lane and Dr Lup concluded: "Our study suggests that businesses that have been successful in countries like Germany should not assume the same smooth implementation of creative ideas when moving to countries like Britain, with a less clear and systematic organisation of skill."

Cooking under Fire: Managing Multilevel Tensions between Creativity and Innovation in Haute Cuisine is published in the journal Industry and Innovation.

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