Chapter 2: Solutions

Kitchen Talent: Training and retaining the chefs of the future

Chapter 2: Solutions

Inspire more chefs

Many UK children seem to like the idea of becoming a chef, but as they get older their ambitions change. Cultivating local talent will require building up children’s knowledge of food and providing them with insights into the city’s gastronomy through greater outreach, so that talented young people actively choose cooking rather than falling into it.

Recommendation 1: The industry should expand programmes that introduce young people to food, cooking and London’s culinary scene.

The culinary industry should work with London schools to introduce young people to chefs and the city’s eating out scene. London could build on “Adopt a School”, a programme set up by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, who have been running sessions in schools introducing children to chefs and to cooking for 40 years, and reaches over 50,000 children a year.

There is evidence that such programmes, if they are thorough, are effective in developing children’s diets as well as their knowledge of food. Research from 2017 25 measured the impact of a weeklong intervention for 9- to 11-year-olds in a British school. Results from a questionnaire delivered before and after the intervention found not only an increase in vegetable consumption after sessions with a chef, but also significant changes in attitude towards food, and an increase in cooking confidence amongst pupils from deprived areas. 25 Coupled with school visits and taster sessions at London culinary institutions, such programmes would encourage young people to value the culinary arts, see the creativity behind them, and develop an interest in food and cooking.

Another initiative is the Hackney School of Food, a cookery teaching space opening in 2019, where “5,000 children – and many of their families – from schools and communities across inner city London will be taught to cook savoury, nutritious, low cost meal each year.”

Recommendation 2: The Mayor of London should front campaigns and events to promote the London food scene and chef jobs.

Whilst arts are looked after by the Mayor of London and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, not much has been done to promote the culinary arts at a time when London is establishing itself as a destination for chefs and food. Eating out is a staple of life in the city, a strong generator of identity and attractor of visitors. The Mayor of Paris meets and greets chefs at industry events and decorates Parisian chefs with the city’s badges of honour – but photos of the current Mayor of London with the city’s chefs are hard to come by. London’s chefs should be celebrated as some of the city’s most valuable assets by the Mayor and the economic development agencies (the London Economic Action Partnership and London & Partners). Responsibility for London’s culinary arts should also be added to the brief of the Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries.

Better training for chefs

The UK is not training enough chefs to replace those leaving the industry – but policymakers should not simply focus on training higher numbers, given the high dropout rates in early years of college and in apprenticeships. Instead, quality of training should become paramount, and we believe that learner numbers will follow.

London colleges have longstanding experience in delivering culinary education, and there is no shortage of willingness among chefs and former chefs to plough their expertise back into training the next generation. But currently, most employers do not rely on apprenticeships or catering college graduates for recruitment. Our findings suggest that culinary training should evolve to better meet employer and learner needs.

As the Mayor of London gains control of adult education spending, now is the right time to define a new vision for London’s culinary schools.

Recommendation 3: The Mayor of London should work with government to reform catering education – making it more modular and interspersed with work experience.

Trainers, chefs and restaurateurs agree that the ideal training for a chef includes work experience in a variety of kitchens, while making the time for trainers and mentors to pass on the principles behind food selection and cooking, as well as giving advice on how to work under pressure and in teams.

Some interviewees also suggested that the cooking techniques taught at school could be made simpler. Employers said that they need future chefs to be introduced to simple cooking techniques using fewer ingredients, whereas currently in colleges they learn more complex recipes that they “won’t need” in most workplaces. College education should focus on adaptable skills: for example, understanding the building blocks of flavours, techniques and ingredients that chefs can combine to create new dishes. Developing skills in food sourcing – a deep understanding of food chains, locality and seasonality – will be at the core of these adaptable skills, for chefs to be able to innovate with ingredients and anticipate trends. Teaching could also include field trips: London has grown a rich offer of artisanal food making – from vegetable growing to artisan bread and dairy producers – that college teaching could make more of.

Recommendation 4: Catering colleges should work with the Mayor of London and the industry to develop a two-stage culinary education system with a new “London College of Food”.

Some catering schools generate huge demand. Ecole Ferrandi in Paris turns away 7 out of 8 applicants to its chef course and 10 out of 11 aspirant pâtissiers, and has doubled the size of its anglophone course in ten years. Last year, the school trained 4,300 adults – 300 of whom are international students from 30 different countries. Ecole Ferrandi is owned by the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry – an indication that it is seen as essential to the city’s economy. Not all chef schools overseas are forward-looking and some are pricey. But it is time for London culinary schools to reflect the city’s innovative food scene.

Some of London’s catering colleges clearly stand out in terms of quality – and their principals have told us that their students usually find work even before finishing the course. Overall, however, they teach a very diverse range of students, some to become master chefs, others to become production chefs. More specialisation could go a long way.

Catering college should consider copying the model of arts schools by adopting a two-stage system. In their first year, aspirant chefs would study foundation level skills, with courses widely available across London as they are today. That will mean that most 16-year olds will be able to access a foundation culinary course in their local area. The foundation courses would be aimed at stimulating young people’s interest in food and cooking and build up their self-confidence. They would be delivered with support from local restaurants and food businesses (they could “adopt” a course).

Aspirant chefs who complete the foundation course would then be guaranteed a place at a one of London’s catering colleges. We also recommend that these are brought together as a “London College of Food”, to create a networked institution focused on gastronomy, with several campuses across London – following the model of the University of the Arts London. 27[/footnote] London’s catering courses are a strong base to build on, since most have well-equipped training kitchens, student-run restaurants, and some, like Westminster Kingsway College, have been leaders in the UK for over a century. But they need a critical mass to succeed.

Setting up an institution dedicated to culinary teaching would not only boost the sector’s image: it would also ensure that there is a dedicated resource to engage food businesses in teaching and apprenticeships. A London College of Food could centralise and grow the provision of apprenticeships through partnerships with businesses. Having a bespoke institution will create a focal point for partnerships with UK universities and other international culinary schools. Last but not least, it would become a recognised brand for UK and international students.

These changes will have cost implications: culinary training is one of the more expensive college courses per student, given the cost of food, equipment, and the need for kitchen space. However, we believe a London College of Food could attract greater business investment and demand from adult and international learners, potentially achieving efficiency gains. International students could cross-subsidise domestic ones.

These priorities should inform future spending through the Adult Education Budget, which the Mayor will be managing from September 2019, as well as the broader strategy for skills delivery in the capital.

Recommendation 5: The government should allow greater flexibility in the apprenticeship system by: allowing cities to retain unspent funds from the levy, facilitating levy transfers from large businesses to social businesses, and reviewing the incentives to pursue apprenticeship qualifications.

There is a clear shortfall in apprenticeships in London. One issue raised by the King’s Commission on London was that there is not enough city-wide planning to increase the provision of apprenticeships in skill shortage areas. We endorse the King’s Commission recommendation that London should keep unused funds from the apprenticeship levy to improve the capital’s offer.

Throughout our research we have gathered evidence that the qualifications earned by completing an apprenticeship lack the recognition needed to draw in learners and employers in greater numbers, particularly among small businesses who do not pay the apprenticeship levy. In its upcoming review of apprenticeships, the government should consider how to raise the profile and recognition of apprenticeship qualifications, so that they become as prestigious as the equivalent GCSEs, A Levels and degrees.

In the last few years, a great number of charities and social businesses have used cooking as part of “return to work” schemes. Because these businesses make considerable investment in training their staff or providing them with working hours that suit them, they often rely on subsidy. Large businesses who pay the apprenticeship levy can directly donate a quarter of it to small businesses who don’t. If businesses agreed to transfer this funding to charities and social businesses providing such training, this would help the profession as a whole, as well as the direct beneficiaries. The London Progression Collaboration, led by the Mayor of London, is a promising intervention beginning in 2019: business advisors will help larger hospitality employers make better use of their apprenticeship levy.

Better care for chefs

Training alone won’t create rewarding and fulfilling chef careers. London can become much better at keeping its skilled chefs or attracting them back after a break.

Improving working standards

Working standards vary hugely from one food business to another – and those that treat their staff well have fewer issues with recruitment. Fortunately, there has been a flurry of chef-led initiatives and events promoting business models that allow for shorter working hours, flexible working, better pay, and a more respectful working culture. 28

The first step must be to learn from the restaurants that do not have an issue recruiting and retaining chefs.

This may be on account of prestige, a good reputation for looking after their workforce, better than average working conditions or because they have put in place a chef talent programme that develops and nurtures their workforce.

One of such programmes is Dishoom’s continuous training and professional development schemes. Dishoom, a London-born chain of restaurants
offering Indian-inspired food, was facing a large skills gap. The restaurant management shifted its approach to recruitment, and created formal ways to hire people who are “unskilled” and train them to Dishoom’s segment of the market, and offer routes from junior chef to head chef. The first scheme is a “52-week training rotation”, which includes weekly sessions introducing new starters to other kitchen stations, for instance making breads or start creating curries. The second scheme, Kitchen Academy, is a 12-month development programme to sous chef level that chefs join internally. The chefs visit factories, markets and see how other kitchens operate, and are progressively awarded more responsibility. Finally, Dishoom’s head chef programme aims to plug skill gaps in leadership for rising chefs who do not have much managerial experience. These initiatives have meant that last year, Dishoom did not hire any of their sous chefs and head chefs externally, and found that their staff turnover was lower than average.

There is no doubt that innovations in staff development have cost implications. Those businesses operating on very small margins believe that they cannot afford to offer better working conditions, especially at a very difficult time for London restaurants. But among the businesses that take a longer-term view of their economic model, there is a strong feeling that these investments in staff will be recouped in the long run by attracting the best talent and incentivising them to stay.

Our labour percentage is high – could we cut our costs on labour, could we take a chef out? It might still work. But that’s not how we want to operate. We don’t want to put stress on our team. We want to have big enough teams that people can take two days off in a row, instead of a Monday and a Thursday.

HR manager, restaurant chain, casual dining

Many businesses are taking initiatives to improve their ability to develop chefs, and learn from those that treat their staff well. There are organisations offering resources to help them do so. The Sustainable Restaurant Association has put together good practice and benchmarking tools to make food service businesses more sustainable – which includes promoting good HR practices. Hospitality Speaks, an independent platform launching in spring 2019, will publish “working solutions and innovations (…) from employers leading by example” and create “a safe online space to share anonymous stories of bullying, harassment and discrimination.”

These projects are essential to increasing the public accountability of hospitality businesses, and we think that the Mayor could take these initiatives further and incite hospitality business to work towards meeting the Mayor’s Good Work Standard.

Recommendation 6: With London’s restaurants and food businesses, the Mayor of London should draft a long-term plan to help them collectively catch up to the Mayor’s Good Work Standard.

The Good Work Standard “sets the benchmark that the Mayor wants every London employer to work towards and achieve”. For instance, the Mayor expects employers to introduce family-friendly working practices, offer development opportunities such as high quality apprenticeships, and take a zero tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying. The Standard also includes “paying all staff the London Living Wage”, a salary calculated to reflect the “real cost of living in London”, which is around 30 per cent higher than the national minimum wage. Only a handful of London restaurants and food businesses are currently meeting the Mayor’s Good Work Standard, and we acknowledge that meeting it will take time given the costs involved.

Recommendation 7: Set up an “Institute of Chefs and Cooks”, a large membership organisation that can:

  • Serve the purpose of a “mutual organisation”, encouraging and enabling chefs to help their colleagues and aspirant chefs at
    crucial life stages through mentoring and financial support.
  • Influence policy, promote the profession, and shape college and  apprenticeship programmes.
  • Spread best practice in terms of working conditions and training programmes.

Chefs are a highly networked profession with a strong collective identity. But given the huge growth in the number of chefs in London, there is potential to set up a stronger organisation enabling mutual support, building on existing structures such as the Craft Guild of Chefs, the Institute of Hospitality, and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

There are trade bodies representing hospitality and catering businesses – the largest is UK Hospitality – we recommend an institution that represents the chef profession, a “home of chefs” that supports them throughout their careers. The Craft Guild of Chefs is currently a tiny grant-making body – its education grant totalled £7,500 last year. Yet there is huge potential to support aspirant chefs into training and excellence programmes, or simply to provide assistance with the capital’s high housing costs at certain life stages. For example, the Association des Cuisiniers de France draws funding from large food businesses and has been able to offer housing to young chefs upon their arrival in Paris. A powerful institution would also give the profession a strong voice and an overarching structure to promote the good work and training practices that do exist, shape education at the London College of Food, and influence policy.


London has grown a world-renowned food scene, but the city struggles to cultivate culinary talent and retain its skilled chefs. For the Londoners seeking more meaningful, creative and sociable work that rewards motivation rather than academic achievement, this is a missed opportunity. But it also is a great loss for a sector that sheds talent every year and misses out on many skilled female chefs. Falling EU migration and Brexit make the issue more pressing, and the Mayor’s interest in good work and adult education creates an opportunity to make cheffing an aspirational and rewarding career that can underpin London’s continuing culinary renaissance.

  • 25 Caraher, M. et al (2013). When chefs adopt a school? An evaluation of a cooking intervention in English primary schools. Appetite, 62, 50-59. Retrieved from:
  • 26 Caraher, M. et al (2013). When chefs adopt a school? An evaluation of a cooking intervention in English primary schools. Appetite, 62, 50-59. Retrieved from:
  • 27 [footnote]Ben Rogers (2016). Why we need a Royal College of Food. London Essays – The Food Issue. London: Centre for London. Retrieved from:
  • 28 For example: Hospitality Speaks, Chefs of Tomorrow, CODE Hospitality.