London boasts a world-class food scene, but the city is losing its skilled chefs at a faster rate than it can train them. This report investigates the reasons behind the skills gap in London's kitchens and proposes new ideas to cultivate local culinary talent.
Hospitality is one of London’s largest industries and demand for chefs has been growing fast – the number of chefs working in the capital has tripled over the last 10 years.
But despite the growth of the industry, London’s kitchens are struggling to attract and retain the talent they need. Around 20,000 chefs leave the profession every year in the UK, but fewer choose to enter the profession.
The shortage of chefs may intensify in coming years, as London’s restaurants are also heavily reliant on migrant workers; 85 per cent of London’s chefs were born abroad. This makes London’s restaurant scene particularly vulnerable to tighter immigration policies which may follow Brexit.
Education and training
This report finds that increasing demand for chefs has not been matched with an expansion and improvement of culinary education and training.
London has a good provision of catering courses but courses have high drop out rates and cannot provide the range of skills young people need to thrive as a chef. Many employers we spoke to believe that colleges don’t sufficiently prepare young chefs with the range of skills needed to thrive in the workplace.
The city is also an apprenticeship darkspot; just 660 people started a chef apprenticeship in the capital in 2018.
High staff turnover
People who successfully complete their education or training and go onto work in restaurants are met with tough working conditions: low pay, unpaid overtime and long working hours. The high-pressure kitchen environment can cause young people to leave the industry after their first job.
Sexism is also frequently experienced by women working in London’s kitchens. Alongside the culture of machismo, the lack of flexible working opportunities is a major reason for this gender imbalance. Strikingly, women make up just 15 per cent of London chefs, but the majority of the city’s cook positions, which offer daytime shifts and more regular hours.
To ensure that London’s restaurants and the culinary sector continues to thrive, this report argues that London must take action to equip aspiring chefs with the skills and experience to succeed.
Key recommendations include:
Unify London’s catering colleges as a new London College of Food
London’s catering colleges should work with the Mayor of London and businesses to develop a two-stage culinary education system, with catering colleges brought together as a new London College of Food. The College would be a networked institution with several campuses across London, based on the model of the University of the Arts London.
Help businesses catch up to the Mayor’s Good Work Standard
London’s restaurants and food businesses should work with the Mayor of London to draft a long-term plan which would help them catch up to the Mayor’s Good Work Standard. This includes introducing family friendly working practices, taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying, and paying all staff the London Living Wage.
Establish an Institute of Chefs and Cooks
Chefs should work together to set up an Institute of Chefs and Cooks, a large membership organisation that can support chefs throughout their career, give the profession a strong voice, shape education and spread best practice, building on existing structures such as the Craft Guild of Chefs, the Institute of Hospitality and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.