A fall in the number of people interested in pursuing a career in the kitchen is causing problems across the food industry, according to a Tunbridge Wells-based celebrity chef.
According to a recent survey conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 44 per cent of vacancies in the hotel and retail sector are for skilled chefs.
The Rosemary Shrager Cookery School on the Pantiles can train 30 apprentices a year, but is currently struggling to fill the roster.
“I don’t know why, but there’s a real shortage of chefs around the country at the moment,” Mrs Shrager said.
“I first really started to notice it about 18 months ago. We have put up adverts, but had such little response. We’ve tried and tried. We are getting apprentices, but it’s disappointing for us, and the industry, that we aren’t attracting more.”
The cause of the shortage is hard to pin down, but Mrs Shreager believes outdated perceptions may well be at the heart of it.
She said: “Some people know there’s nothing else they want to do but cook. If it’s in your blood, you’re going to go into the profession anyway. The problem we’re facing is trying to attract the people who might like to give it a go.
“Cheffing has a reputation of being a harsh environment, with low pay and unsociable hours where you’re shouted at all day. There may have been some truth to that in the past, but it’s not at all the case any more.
“Something not getting across to these young people is that it’s the best job in the world. The rewards are fantastic.
“If you’re a vocational person you can show your talents without being academic, and there aren’t many jobs that let you travel around the world.”
Mrs Shrager believes part of the problem in attracting apprentices is that young people are encouraged to take A levels and go to university instead.
She said: “Maybe because chef apprenticeships are relatively new, compared to, say, engineering apprenticeships, people don’t consider them as such a serious alternative.
“We go into all the schools in Kent to explain what cheffing is all about. They get quite excited. But there’s often parental pressure to get qualifications first, then think about vocations later.
“But it really is the best industry, it’s very rewarding. And apprenticeships are the place to start. You learn on the job and get paid while you do it. You get matched to a placement that suits your personality. And the best thing is, if you’re good, there’s a job there waiting for you at the end of it. A hotel or restaurant that’s trained someone up for over a year to make food the way they want it isn’t going to want that person to leave.”
Apprenticeships seem to offer a viable alternative to higher education or an office job for the vocationally mined, and an internal solution to the industries problems. The only hard part is convincing young people it’s worth a go.
“Where is the next Gordon Ramsay, the next Marco Pierre white coming from? They’re going to come from somewhere, why not here?”
THE SHRAGER FACT FILE
Rosemary Shrager is a television chef who has years of experience in restaurant kitchens.
She has worked for Pierre Koffman at the famous Tante Claire restaurant in London and also for the brilliant chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.
But Rosemary is perhaps better known to the wider public as the no-nonsense haute cuisine teacher on the reality television programme Ladette to Lady.
She has also penned books such as ‘Absolutely Foolproof’, published by Octopus.
Born in London in 1952 of Jewish parents, Rosemary was head chef at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle from 1998 till 2002.
There, alongside her day job, she ran a cookery for four years and published her first book, Rosemary – Castle Cook in 2001. In 2003 she moved her cookery school to Swinton Park.
Rosemary’s TV career began with the TV series Rosemary – Castle Cook, followed by Rosemary on the Road, both for Channel 5.
She is now a familiar face on ITV, following up her Rosemary Shrager’s School For Cooks series with regular appearances on The Alan Titchmarsh Show.
She hosted the TV series Rosemary Shrager’s School for Cooks, where ten contestants compete for the opportunity to work in a Michelin star restaurant.