I started my career in 1989 and was lucky to get my first job in a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Gloucestershire cooking fantastic food 6 days a week, the restaurant was small the team was very skilled (not me!).
I have to say at first it was tough, we worked hard, we looked after each other, we lived in the same house and drank in the same pub, we were a team.
You started at the bottom, peeling, chopping and learning your craft, respecting the food, rising from commis chef up the ranks. Nobody did less than a year before the next move and always to a friend of the head chef, to another restaurant as good or better. Maybe a 2-star if you where lucky, and I have been very lucky, some have said a bit of skill but who knows.
So, what has happened to all those chefs, like me, most are too old for 16 hours days. Like an old footballer, the mind still has it but the legs have gone, where is the new guard, the new talent?
Why can’t we find great chefs or great waiters, what has gone wrong? I asked my best friend, a chef, about finding chefs and what he thinks is the problem.
“It’s a constant struggle to find chefs” he says
“A lot of young chefs don’t have the patience; they just want to go straight to sous chef or head chef. Or, they sign up for an agency or work in a private home and the pay is better, the hours are better and they don’t really have any responsibilities”
This is a golden age for eating out in Britain, never before has such a quality of food been so widely available. Ironically, this boom is threatened by a chronic shortage of chefs and waiting staff. The hospitality industry is responsible for around 6 million jobs making it the UK’s fourth biggest employer.
Going back to my first job for a chef called Chris Oakes, Chris is no longer with us but he was a great man, not only did he teach me and others to be great cooks, he taught me something else, something that is missing in most restaurants and that’s respect.
Every morning Chris said, “good morning, how are you?” not just in passing but he would stop and wait for an answer, he would engage with you. At the end of those long days he would thank every member of the team, he respected us and boy did we respect him.
To keep our teams we need to respect each other, work as a team if we stand a chance of keeping good staff. Tell your team how much they mean to you and thank them as we can’t do this without each other. This is a working-class business and staff will move to another restaurant around the corner for an extra 50p an hour if they are not happy, that is fact.
Respect, Train, Develop = Great Team