Pastry, a great skill and a master trade. Are we loosing the battle in Birmingham for quality and skilled craftsmen in the trade? Over the years whilst working in and around the Midlands have only come across a few talented and dedicated pastry chefs who knew there profession inside out. A lot of them have now left the Midlands simply because of standards. With most establishments (not all) Pastry and the Kitchens are left to degrade, loss of equipment never replaced, the floors broken and dirty, cladding stained and coming of thef wall, I could go on. It’s something I have never understood as a chef, the kitchen is the heart of the establishment yet it is treated by a number of country house hotels as the one that “We don’t have to work in there so as long as they are cooking we can carry on”. This leads to unhappy chefs, the chef leaves to find another place where they promise everything even if the kitchen is in a bad way. “Don’t worry, we’ll sort things out when you get here, you just make your wish list and I’ll stick it in the filing cabinet with all the rest”. And so it begins again.
I have no doubt in my mind that the reason there is shortage of Pastry chefs, chefs etc is because the way that the industry looks after the people that work so many hours and so tirelessly for the profession but for little gain. Unless you’ve managed to hit the top and then you can control your own destiny. This doesn’t happen for the majority, some get depression, some get anxiety and some just give up, turning to drugs or alcohol. How can we blame them!? They then leave there 9-11 jobs and join the agencies because at least then they can work the hours they want, get the money they need and have a better life style all round. We need chefs !!! The companies that didn’t look after them in the first place have to pay crazy charges for a chef just to be able to find one through an agency, very little comes through when you do adverts in the Caterer or news papers like the old days, You must pay!!
You can talk to any chef and they will all say the same, fortunately I am a lucky one as are all my chefs that work under me. They get a good work/life balance, learn everything they will need to carry them through the industry at a high level and they get to love the industry that they are in.
For us as chefs, we need to inspire, lead and develop the next generation of pastry chefs/chefs to retain them, not to torture them. Keep pushing for excellence and expect nothing less. When the younger chefs see you reaching high standards and in love with your career, this in turn will encourage them to work hard and want to be the best, not push them into the agency life. We can blame everyone else, but really it’s up to us to get the next generation of chefs interested again and help them to understand that it’s ok to want to learn and develop, but that doesn’t mean you have to job hop every 6 months (I also went through this stage).
We have the power, get the balance right and things fall into place.