Kitchen Talent: Training and retaining the chefs of the future


London’s food scene is booming, but is highly vulnerable to staff shortages…

  • The number of chefs in London has more than tripled since 2009.
  • Growth has partly come from migration – 85 per cent of London’s chefs were born abroad, compared to 50 per cent in the rest of the UK.
  • This makes London’s restaurant scene particularly vulnerable at a time of falling immigration and Brexit.

London does not do enough to inspire sufficient chef talent…

  • At an early age, young people seem to like the idea of becoming a chef, but as they grow up their ambitions change – partly because many young Londoners have few opportunities to develop food knowledge and experience the city’s gastronomy.
  • The offer of culinary training generally needs greater visibility.

Education and training do not meet the industry’s needs…

  • London has a good provision of catering courses, including some of the best in the country – but catering colleges have high dropout rates.
  • Most courses cannot provide the range of skills needed to thrive as a chef, such as creativity and resilience: these are best learnt in the workplace.
  • The government apprenticeship scheme is not yet delivering for the profession, particularly in London.The city represents 21 per cent of chef jobs but only offers 12 per cent of chef apprenticeships.

…and the working conditions and pay make employee retention difficult.

  • The UK loses an estimated 10 per cent of its working chefs every year, or 20,000 chefs.
  • London loses skilled chefs because of low rewards compared to the cost of living, and difficult working conditions.
  • Lack of flexible working and frequent sexism in kitchen environments mean the sector misses out almost completely on female talent: only 15 per cent of chefs are women.

Fortunately, the profession can build on its many strengths, and is well represented by passionate, networked, creative and entrepreneurial individuals. There is also much that can be done to cultivate local culinary talent:

Inspire young people from an early age by…

  • Developing their knowledge of food, and of London’s culinary scene.
  • Promoting the culinary arts as part of London’s creative industries, and chefs as one of London’s main assets.

Improve chef education and training by…

  • Creating a more modular catering curriculum, with longer work experience placements and greater business involvement.
  • Consolidating catering courses into a London College of Food, which aspirant chefs would join after completing a local course to develop foundation skills.
  • Enhancing the status of apprenticeship qualifications to give them prestige on a par with GCSEs, A Levels and degrees.

Create better care for chefs at work by…

  • Encouraging the catering industry and the Mayor of London to draft a plan with the aim of securing wider commitment to the Mayor’s Good Work Standard.
  • Setting up a powerful professional organisation that reflects the growth of the culinary profession and its importance to the city. An Institute of Chefs and Cooks would build on existing organisations, unite the profession, promote good work standards and facilitate mutual support.