The great Chef’s Crisis
It’s been well documented in recent times by different media groups, here are some examples.
I can recommend listening to this sound cloud/pod cast by Christine Green, she really nails a lot of it, I’m yet to read her book, I think it would be a cracker with all her tales! This discussion is really good, you can listen here.
and her book is available here https://justthesizzle.com/shop/
Some others that have covered the subject also, no solutions on this one just observations from a very experienced and respected Chef https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/points-of-view/chef-job-pros-cons/
some deeper thinking https://www.finedininglovers.com/stories/anthony-rudolf-chefs-journee/
This local Australian media article isn’t bad either, although ironically the same organisation is guilty of what so much of the food media do with ‘glamorizing ‘ what is not actually glamorous http://www.goodfood.com.au/eat-out/news/why-no-one-wants-to-be-a-chef-20170811-gxu1gs
This article goes deeper into the mental stress of the industry http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/chefs-with-issues-explores-mental-health-in-food-industry-1.3399070
Rather than go on about the negatives of the massive hours and working the hours that everybody else is having their fun time , I thought I’d highlight a couple of issues below and an idea or two how to keep your great chefs ‘long term’ .
On the Positive side :
My advice to young chefs the same that was given to me year years ago :
“always cook with someone else’s money “, and IF you wanted to do your own thing ‘ be the 3rd one in’, *topic for explanation later time.
I would add ‘Travel’, the one thing that the industry and trade can provide is the chance to see the world, and often with that have your rent paid , which makes the crappy $$ so much sweater!
Lastly, ‘its totally ok to crank some loud and heavy tunes during prep time’; ‘food fights are good for mental health’; and don’t play with front of house staff!
And before it all gets to depressing to the point of horror at the thought of people having to cook their own food, here is a classic mood lightener.
- Money, the money I made and what was available starting in the 80’s compared to now when taking CPI into consideration is terrible, it hasn’t even kept up with inflation. Anyone that has an eye on the $$ and wants to make good money cooking, really needs to be looking offshore for their career.
- Media, through a plethora of tv shows, the media have turned a hand full of chefs into celebrities, rocket scientists, social commentators, marketing money making machines, health professionals, political activists and everything in between, they could save the world if the food media gave them a chance!
- Over sensationalizing the reality of what really is the industry and highlighting the 000000000000000000ooo00000000000000000 1% that get that level of media opportunity (lets face Mr Oliver would be the first to admit he’s a very lucky chap, just happened to be in the right place at the right time and ran with it, good luck to him, ‘lubly jubly’ as he would say!) but it’s so far from what is the norm, it couldn’t be further from the truth, it paints a VERY UNREALISTIC picture of what life behind the pass is really like.
- A lot of Chefs will say just pay us more… those that say this are highlighting their ignorance of ‘commercial reality’. Wage/money can only be linked to profit, and MOST food businesses don’t make money or if they do very little, so there isn’t enough left over to pay more. For Chefs to ‘earn more’ they need to be cooking in operations that make their money less off the food and more off other areas, be it alcohol, gambling, accommodation, fees, whatever it may be.
- Busy profitable food business (that can make money) are ‘Physically’ and ‘Mentally’ are demanding and the fact is as a Chef gets older it’s harder to maintain, so how do you keep them on board?
- Hours, well they are crap, that’s all there is to it, but does it always have to be 10-14 hr days for days on end before you get a day off? If your working on a fortnight roster sometimes that can mean 10 days straight. Then when you get that day you basically and up in a coma on the couch because you are physically and mentally exhausted? I would recommend to most medium to large operations consider shaking it up a bit, why not offer 4 days 10-12 hrs per day , 4 days off roster, if you cant pay more then perhaps offer a lifestyle, it’s not always about the money.
- Training, the current method of training due the Federal Governments apprenticeship/certificate system being linked to financial incentives to training organisations and business owners , has resulted in a INFERIOR level of training than decades before. I say this particularly with Food Safety, Workplace Safety, and Commercial Acumen which just doesn’t seem to be touched on. Food/Menu/Cooking variety, flavors and presentation is at much HIGHER levels than the past, but the business side of it is poor. Kitchen/Business Management just isn’t covered or taught, so it’s left up to the individual to find their own training. I also say this with background and experience in the training sector, its a model that is fundamentally flawed and broken ( I wrote a detailed submission to the powers that be back on the day that fell on deaf ears) and guess what? All these years later the ‘training industry’ is now finally under investigation at Federal political level, but for many the damage has been already done. It’s up to the leaders of the industry to train from within now, invest in their chefs of tomorrow, because we can’t leave it up to the Government for solutions, they already have failed there.
- I can see a time when large hotels and food/hospitality organisations start to look at chefs in the same light that a professional football club does. Identify the talent early and sign them up to long programs that will see them stay with the club/business for the best part of their career. Just the same as the football club it would involve many layers of training and support and a structured career plan with performance intensives along the way, especially rewarding long term commitment. Some hotel groups already do this with opportunities for transfers nationally and internationally within the group.
- So where are the best ‘professional career chefs’ going , or going to go? In my view they will gravitate to larger organisations, Clubs, Pubs, Mining/Resource Aged care/Health sectors where the businesses make profit or are NFP on the food side, and therefore can invest in better conditions (kitchens/equipment) reasonable hours. The money might not be higher, but the conditions and security are much higher and encourage long term commitment and opportunities for career advancement.
- Certainly the evidence is clear in NSW where the Club scene sets the pace nationally and there are some really strong examples of training and investment into the next generation of chefs, backed with industry initiatives such as the https://www.nestleprofessional.com.au/list/Golden-Chefs It’s certainly an area I would suggest any new Chefs in training be looking to, you will gain experience in large commercial kitchens that a properly designed and resourced, secure employment and income and many of the best clubs offer great opportunities for ‘Fine dining’ , ‘Function’ and Catering along with Bistro work. Some even have their own Pastry and Butchery sections on site, a rarity in this day and age of ‘buy in convenience’ This gives a training Chef a ’rounded’ view and skill set on all types of kitchen work and they will be well skilled to move into any areas of the industry that they choose, from small fancy Restaurants to large scale catering kitchens. In the past you would look to a ‘Hotel’ kitchen for this training , that’s not always the case these days, and training isn’t always high on the Agenda for Hotel Kitchens like it once was.
- Despite what the media may tell us , the fancy Restaurant with all the hype and media exposure and big named Chef , DOES NOT represent the entire industry and sure does not represent the best career path ‘commercially’ for a ‘Professional Chef’, cooking ‘professionally’ is different to cooking entirely for love or ego. There is a time and place in every commercial Chefs career for both, Ego/Passion and Commercial, getting the balance is the tricky part!
- The Brigade/Army ‘Yes Chef’ culture, is ridiculous, antiquated and out of touch with the modern world, the Culture needs change, especially the totalitarian army style of ranking and abuse! Is stems from a time and era where menu’s and food were much different, and also the way we treat people! I’ve seen many young chefs broken from abuse by elder washed up worn out ‘cooks’ that frankly had their taste buds inserted in the wrong end of their body, ‘the way many young apprentices have been treated over the years would be one of the biggest factors in the ‘high drop out rate of apprentice chefs’.
- How and what we eat now is vastly different, ingredients the equipment and resources are different. For some strange reason we want to hold onto to so much the past, News flash ‘ Escoffier is Dead’ and he died a long time ago, time to move on.
- The death of the $100k executive Chef ! Back in the 80’s in what common to find European head chefs of hotels and larger organisations earning this sort of money, I know for me it was one of the things that attracted me to the industry , there WAS money to be made when you made the top. These guys were task masters, but they knew their stuff and they could run a kitchen with lots of staff like well oiled machines, they were tough, but they were respected and they knew their gig. But somehow things changed…management said, ‘ we don’t need these overseas $100k ego maniacs’ lets promote the Jnr Sous Chef to do it on $65k , they can do it, save us heaps…and that short sighted approach was the beginning of the Rot.
- Lack of ‘kitchen management’. This is the No 1 issue I find in so many operations, Head Chefs that are too busy ‘cooking’ when they should be spending MUCH more time OFF the tools ‘managing the operation’ be it staff/rosters, menu/costings, suppliers/produce, marketing, food safety, kitchen maintenance , energy costs the lists go on. If a Chef in a busy operation can spend more time on these above items they could potentially save their operation many thousands of dollars.
- By shaving % off labour costs, % off food costs, %operating energy costs, % of maintenance/repair costs TRAINING New staff, all these small % improvements will add up to FAR greater profit than pumping out extra covers each night. If you can get your senior chef into a ‘executive ‘ position , less on the tools your bottom line will improve, you can train your own staff and guess what your senior Chef might just stay for years to come! Pay them well*, let them run it like a business, and let them spend time training the Chefs of tomorrow. * Incentives are key here, bonus’s for hitting targets, ‘profit’ based, not just ‘numbers based’.
- Much of the above may seem to be directed at medium to larger organisations, and probably is, but it can still be implemented in smaller operations.
- Over supply: There is a massive oversupply of eating out options available to us these days, with everyone’s busy lifestyles, long commutes from workplaces etc this is unlikely to change. But it does put an unhealthy pressure on the staffing pool. And sadly a LARGE percentage of the small start ups will fail, and in the process probably ‘burn’ some poor young chef’s along the way.
- I have no idea why people that ‘eat out’ think they are qualified to ‘open and run’ a food operation, especially if they come from industries so different, it’s been this way for a while, and probably won’t change . Which is good for people that are selling hospitality business finance and or supplies, not for the staff. My Tip for young or Apprentice Chefs, avoid working in start ups, leave your Ego at home and work with experienced professional operations , go where you can lean and be trained, you also know that you are at least going to get paid!
- Bad business managers, underpayment of staff. Well documented,and its not just the small unknowns, the better known and bigger names are just as guilty, industrial relations is choked up with a back log of hospitality pay issues. Hardly helps attract new players.
- For professional Chefs , especially apprentices let the ‘I’ve always wanted to run my own restaurant crew’ do so on their own time and money not at your expense’ OR if you take on such a challenge do so with a ‘risk factor’ built into your wage/pay because statistically you are at high risk of working in a business that is going to go broke, so make sure you get plenty up front, because you will have buckley’s chance of chasing up that missing super and holiday pay once the doors are shut.
- I feel fortunate to have done much of my Apprenticeship years working in environments where time was spent training me to reasonably high level of skills and organisation, I was lucky to work under some fantastic chefs, and a few not so! Those skills I carry with me and I know (and occasionally do) that I can get back ‘on the tools’ at any time I need/choose to. For those that are still out there busting their backs sacrificing the massive hours and commitment to feed/entertain others I applaud you, but makes sure you are getting well looked after for your efforts.
‘If you think a good chef is expensive, wait until you find out what a ‘cheap’ chef will cost you’