Another year, another media story about Chef Shortages in Ireland, this time on our screens, and the longer it goes on the worse it’s likely to become. We’ve been here before, almost a year ago to the day we covered an Irish Times piece on the same problem and later on we revisited the issue with a particular focus on the Chef De Parties. This chef shortage is biting harder and deeper as time passes. While the recession has brought a welcome uptick in the numbers of young people interested in pursuing a career as a chef the training sector just hasn’t anything close to the number of college places available to meet the demand.
Here’s a video of the RTE Six One piece for your viewing pleasure:
Michelin Star Restaurants Hit With Chef Shortage Too
The reporter seems surprised that this chef shortage would hit Michelin Star Restaurants as well; although if you give it a moments thought it isn’t difficult to work out that Michelin Star Restaurants would be, if anything, likely to get hit hardest from any chef shortage. What’s not fully appreciated outside our industry is that the level of skill, not to mention bloody minded determination, necessary to make the grade in Michelin Star kitchens is rare in good times, it’s rare in bad times and in the teeth of a national chef shortage it’s not going to get any less rare.
And Here’s the Bad News on Chef Recruitment
The problem is a national one and it isn’t fixable on a local level, although that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Clearly better employers will retain chefs longer and replace them faster than bad employers, that’s true in all market conditions. What we mean is that the overall trend is a macro national one, partly resource based (see video), part reality and part perception and won’t improve until there are improvements in some or all of those facets. Yes if the Government wakes up to the reality that one of the industries upon which our economic recovery depends is terrifyingly short of manpower, and that this is partly due to the shortage of college places, that will be of help over the longer term. We can hope, but governments move in geological time and the catering and hospitality industry needs relief now. As to reality and perception this applies to the national brand. We, as Chef Recruitment Specialists, have become acutely aware of this through two areas we’ve been working in.
- Attracting Chefs From Abroad
- Sending Chefs to Australia
In terms of the former we’ve made the sourcing of high quality chefs from Europe a “house speciality” of ours. It’s something we’ve worked very hard on and it’s an area where we’ve developed a lot of valuable and strategically important industry connections on the continent. So we’re good at finding the right people. Next is the tricky bit, selling Ireland to them. Yes as culinary professionals the quality of the business we’re attracting them to is key but so is the country that business is located in and, fairly or unfairly, Ireland is suffering from an image problem in recent years.
On the other hand we’re also offering a combined Chef Job and 457 Australian Visa service to Irish and UK based Chefs. While, from a business perspective, we’re delighted with the response we’ve been getting to this program it’s mildly depressing to find that we’ve absolutely no work to do in selling Irish, or British, chefs on the attractiveness of Australia. So there’s the double whammy, Chefs over here need little encouragement to leave, while chefs abroad often need to be sold on moving to Ireland before we can begin selling them on working for you.
On Finding Chefs Abroad
When it comes to sourcing chefs abroad this is a speciality of ours, we maintain a strong list of connections in the gastronomy field on the continent, particularly in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. Of course these nations have a very strong and well established roster of Michelin Star restaurants. That makes them seem an obvious target for talent, and they are, but they offer no panacea for the level of talent shortages over here, especially in the better Irish kitchens. Yes we can find these chefs, and yes we do find them, but they need compelling reasons for coming here. In most cases they can continue to work in restaurants, in the one to three Michelin Star category, without leaving their home country. So why should they come here? If that’s the level of talent your business depends upon then you had better have the answer to that question figured out before advertising or engaging the services of specialists in this area such as ourselves. This type of thinking often comes especially hard to restauranteurs in the Michelin bracket in Ireland. They’re rightly proud of what is no mean achievement, in getting a Michelin Star, so it’s perhaps natural for them to get used to the idea that it’s the job of potential chefs to convince them of their worth and not the other way round. It’s ok to think that way but it isn’t going to solve their chef shortage. We certainly wouldn’t argue that it’s the job of Irish restauranteurs, especially those who’ve won a Michelin Star, to genuflect to anyone but neither should they expect top talent from the continent to up sticks and move to Ireland without a little bit of courtship first. This process should be a two way street. The restauranteur needs to be reassured that their new chef hire is up to scratch and their new chef needs reasons to come to Ireland and to work for them. So the message is if you want them to work for you, then you’ll need to know the answer to the question “why,” and remember that as currency your Michelin Star might not be quite as rare where they live as it is here.
Photo by HerryLawford