Mind the gap: lack of training sees UK fine dining fall behind rivals

A skills crisis in the UK foodservice sector is looming, and it is starting to impact on fine dining

A recent study by the London School of Economics and Political Science and university of Cambridge study suggests that restaurants in Germany are awarded significantly more Michelin stars than those in Britain due to a greater emphasis on industry training and apprenticeships.

The number of Michelin stars awarded in Britain in 2013 was 162, compared to 255 in Germany. The rate at which restaurants had lost stars or closed between 2002 and 2009 was almost twice as high in Britain as in Germany.

According to the researchers, there is a deeper German tradition of training and apprenticeships, with its national legally binding curriculum, whereas in Britain fewer people are formally trained.

Of the 20 British head chefs interviewed, six were self-taught, whereas the Germans all had the basic apprenticeship qualification and 30% had a Master craftsman qualification. The same differences occurred in the brigade staff, the researchers said. 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. 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.”

Working environment often suffers in the pursuit of perfection, the researchers argued. Some chefs surveyed admitted to an authoritarian style of leadership, and confessed that they “shout, swear, or even engage in some low-level violence.”

According to the study, many chefs complained that a stressful working environment impinged their creativity. One British one-star chef commented: “It’s like labouring – you just burn yourself out. You get to the point where the ideas aren’t coming. It’s like writer’s block, and sometimes I think ‘pack it in now, the story’s over.’”

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, the study said, with a British one star chef saying ‘I don’t want any under me to be creative’, and 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. Cohesive teams are essential, with several chefs saying that they explicitly rejected junior chefs with “big egos”.

The high turnover of staff in British kitchens, in comparison to their German counterparts, impacts on the ability of chefs to build cohesive teams.

But, it is not just the UK that is feeling the shortage, in the upcoming Q2 edition of Foodservice Consultant, Hildegard Dorn Petersen (FCSI) writes that Germany and Austria is feeling a crisis of its own and in the same edition we look at whether there is a global shortage of chefs.

“It is harder than ever to find and recruit top-quality employees who have the skills required for their position and can fit in with the hotel, restaurant or kitchen team,” she says.

Ellie Clayton

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