Kitchen skills: developing and retaining the chefs of the future

With a growing skills shortage in the capital’s kitchens, London needs to do a better job of developing local culinary talent.

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London has emerged over the last few decades as a global culinary hotspot. There are 45 per cent more licensed restaurants in the capital today than in 2001. Once a byword for bad food, the capital now boasts world famous chefs and restaurants, as well as an exciting food, drink and cooking culture, including high-quality artisanal makers, markets and shops. This has been a boon for London’s global reputation and its economy.

London’s kitchens, however, face a growing skills shortage. As of 2015, around a quarter of hospitability businesses had vacancies, with 22 per cent of those looking for chefs. And restaurants and hotels particularly complain about the difficulty to recruit and retain local talent.

This is a real and serious problem for the capital.

First, Brexit is likely to further limit the supply of overseas chefs and makers – more than 25 per cent of London’s hospitality workforce originates from the EU.

Second, despite all its success, too many Londoners struggle to secure well paid and rewarding work in the capital. Though kitchens are often seen as open to talent, it is not clear that the hospitality sector improves social mobility. While it can be relatively easy to get kitchen and bar jobs, it’s much more difficult for those from less advantaged backgrounds to move up through the industry. The restaurant trade is infamous for long, unsociable hours, low pay and a male-dominated working culture, with a particular problem retaining women. Though nationally roughly half of trainee chefs are women, only 17 per cent of working chefs are – a figure that has not increased for at least 5 years.[1]

If London is going to meet its skills needs, especially its need for chefs, it will have to get better at cultivating local culinary talent.

This project explored the trends and challenges in training and career progression for chefs in London, and, working with the Mayor, boroughs, and businesses, develop new approaches to promoting skills and opportunity in the culinary sector. Our research considered the following questions:

  • What is the profile of London’s chefs?
  • Does the sector work as a springboard for local people from less advantaged backgrounds?
  • How has London’s system of culinary training and education changed over recent decades?
  • What role are less formal routes into the sector playing?
  • What do we know about working standards, pay and progression in London’s culinary sector?
  • What are the hurdles preventing greater social mobility and a better gender balance?

Like many sectors with specialist workers, little research has been done in this area previously and there is no data on chefs’ careers. To inform this work, we conducted interviews with London chefs, restauranteurs and culinary training providers.

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[1] Labour Force Survey, Office for National Statistics, People 1st analysis, quoted in The Chef Shortage, a Solvable Problem?


This project has been generously supported by