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Why we are short of cooks and chefs



I responded to an article in Hospitality Magazine about the alarming shortage of people who seek to become apprentices and various views why.

http://www.hospitalitymagazine.com.au/…/apprentices-finding…

I know that I have a reputation of being "old school "and yes I did start cooking nearly 60 years ago.

I acknowledge many in the modern culinary world would leave me for dead on a stove now as my last Kitchen Gig / appearance was a couple of years ago.

However, my career started in Haute- Classical (French) and touched - Nouvelle- Fusion – and many other styles and cultures. There are a couple of very well known Melbourne chefs with whom I have in very recent years (in fun) participated in joint events in their kitchen, mainly as guest appearances gigs, and to their and the brigades amazement was able to deliver a quality experience.

In addition, yes, I can also use a sous vide machine and a smoke gun.

Substantially experienced in culinary education, authored a number of books and passionately kept up to date; even years after most others have curled up on bowling greens or gone walkabout. Even now, discover that I often know more about the state of the nation than some young guns.

I also believe that Melbourne has some excellent chefs and restaurants. However, there is alarming evidence that the cookery industry is on a slippery slope.

In my opinion - The main issue is about attitude not skills alone. I have often said Chefs "look in the mirror" and agree with that opinion, and here are some reasons why.

I realise, that I will be shouted down again about a long-term issue of mine, wearing a chef's hat.

Symbols influence attitudes in all aspects of our culture, and I suggest the symbol of a chef's hat impacts on the prestige of being a chef. A classic chef's hat shapes the subconsciously opinion of the public of the value of being a chef and reinforces the respectability of commercial cookery as a career.

Realise, the industry lost a lot of respect by dropping a global symbol that identifies the wearer as a person who belongs to a unique trade, and proud to show they are a cook; we lost the branding of a chef and threw out the baby with the bathwater.

Consequently, subconsciously the young say, "Where is my role mode"? Where is the badge I need to respect? Who will respect me in the future? Forget the many other material reasons why one should, or even should not wear one; and there are many good reasons on both sides. Just please seriously examine the "respect issue".

What occurs in any kitchen is the chef's domain, but when a chef appears in any public arena without a chef's hat, it subconsciously destroys the perception of cookery as a respectable career and thus become an industry wide issue.

The public do not see the unique difference between a chef and any other occupation. They may acknowledge an individual, but do not subconsciously associate the individual with the whole industry, so the uncapped chef may receive the kudos but the industry does not gain the same level of respectability.

Added thoughtless schools administrators swapped classical hats for caps in their classes, and by doing so foolishly endorsed the lowering of standards, accepted mediocrity, and removed the very symbol admired globally.

I am highly honoured to know some seriously great chefs and educators, but cannot understand why they do not see this flaw in their attitude.

The second point, that some will have some refusing to accept is about titles.

When we started calling apprentices cooks – apprentice chefs we took away a stage of development for them to strive to attain. We removed an important difference of recognition, between naming a person who has eight or eighteen years experience and the trainee with only one. We confused the public, gave creditability to the con artists, and developed a public perception that everyone who can peel a carrot or read a recipe is a legitimate chef.

The same principle applies up the brigade ladder. When anyone calls themselves an" executive chef" and not technically entitled to do so, they destroy the publics understanding of chain of command and rightful recognition of position and responsibility and only demonstrating to peers they do not understand the equal status of Chef de cuisine, while wrongly believing that "Executive" has a higher status.

The attitude unknowingly promoted by a host of bad practices including: the inexperienced media who appear to encourage industry hype by using images of chefs in kitchens without hats, companies who use clowns in their adverts, misuse of titles in articles, reviewers who really believe that one meal experience is adequate evidence to evaluate a restaurant and more.

The third point, which from experience below most will choose to ignore.

I wonder how many readers know that there is an official code of conduct for cooks and chefs, compiled, and endorsed by over 80 chefs and culinary educators Australia wide and endorsed by the major chefs associations over five years ago.

Which after officially requesting and justifying on numerous occasions to state and national curriculum authorities for the codes be added to curriculum in first year of culinary training to improve young attitudes, and has this been done NO. Has it even been examined NO, Has the peak restaurant associations promoted the codes to its members NO. There is an Idiom: A fish goes bad from its head?

Then when we read employers stating in articles that they seek a second or third year apprentice because of greater experience; meaning in reality they scrounge on someone else doing the hard investment in the first year, then poach, and burn him or her out. In addition, probably leave them to self-train and alone to run the show, further often without a trained chef at hand to advise and supervise.

I could continue to explore equally other appalling attitudes and industry practises, but these will take forever including:

Exchanging fulltime career teachers with part timers on the pretext, they are more up to date. In some cases yes, but more importantly do not have the skills to impart knowledge nor the passion required to teach.

Blindly accepting that only current industry practices will form the curriculum and overlooking the very principle of walking a fine line between reflecting industry practice, while leading industry practice by being a role model.

Chefs who believing that if taught at school, it does not need industry rehearsal, because of the invalid view that competency at school is the same as being industry ready.

Still we all need to remember; it is also a supply and demand issue.

When the cookery industry gets ugly enough and unable to find sufficient people, because the public begin to realise the whole story: burnout, lack of respect, TV shows do not reflect industrial conditions, One cannot fail even in a competency model, and more; (Evidence that this is starting to happen) only then will the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction.

Someone has to say it. Some will not be able to see the points, but there again; I am from the old school

However, I can remember:

I was able to ask questions of my teachers and exchange conversations without using profane language in the sentence.

We believed that our chef was god who was always right and knew that even when wrong he was right.

Failing a test was actually bad and no one worried that telling me that I had failed might hurt my feelings and psychologically damage me for life.

We not only used numerous technical terms to communicate in a kitchen, but others in the kitchen actually understood them.

We did not wear baseball caps in a kitchen, nor would we have worn them backwards to keep the sunlight off the neck while on the stove.

Celebrities were real people who were famous for exceptional acting skills, while now many celebrities become famous for trying to act as an exceptional chef.

Cooking, cookery and cook were used to describe the job while cheffery and cheffing used by inexperience and usually the uneducated.

Moreover, Ice was made only from water.

Wow- How right you are - I am old school. But with an attitude I am proud of.


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Australia Food and Wine Article: 20150301010250  Updated: 1 Mar 2015
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George Everard Hill

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