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Shortage of young Welsh chefs

Stebonheath park: welcoming international players
Arwyn Watkins

THE PRESIDENT of the Culinary Association of Wales has warned that the hospitality industry is in crisis because not enough young people are choosing to follow a career as a chef.

Arwyn Watkins is raising concern as not only are there a lack of people currently entering the industry, but also there is a high drop-out rate after learners are done with their further education courses.

Watkins is managing director of award winning training provider based in Welshpool, Cambrian Training Company, and is aware of issues facing the hospitality industry. He says the cris is not only gathering attention in Wales and the UK, but internationally across North Europe and North America.

“I believe that this is no longer a skills shortage but a people shortage,” he told the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) awards dinner. “Not enough individuals are taking this industry as a serious career choice. Even when they have made that career choice, not enough are progressing on to the industry on completion of further education.”

Watkins congratulated those involved in the WICC for highlighting how exciting the catering industry is, and revealed that a member of the Culinary Association of Wales will be working more closely and effectively with learning providers for ages 16 and over in Wales in the future.

Watkins continued: “This is an industry that is very important to the future of the Welsh economy and we need to work with partners in Wales to ensure that we can increase the uptake of our industry as a career choice.

“We have to work with employers to share best practice on work life balances and the changing dynamics and expectations of the workforce. No longer can our industry survive on goodwill. We all have to think differently if we are to secure a sustainable workforce. Not an easy ask but necessary.”

One of the guests at the awards dinner was the Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans. At the dinner she expressed how passionate she was about raising the profile of rewarding and exciting careers in the food and tourism industries in Wales.

She believes the country has world class producers of food and drink, and chefs and hospitality businesses were developing a reputation for excellence, but believes more needs to be done.

Evans also highlighted the valuable contribution that chefs and the hospitality industry can make to achieving goals set out in the Food Tourism Action Plan for Wales by establishing Wales as a food tourism destination.

One of the members of the judging panel for the four days of the WICC was Will Holland, the Michelin starred chef from Coast Restaurant in Saundersfoot. Holland recognised that current state of the industry’s recruitment process, but remained upbeat about the enthusiasm, energy and standards achieved in the competitions, which attracted 300 chefs from across the UK to Coleg Llandrillo, Rhos-on-Sea.

Holland explained: “It was great to see the range of chefs, from students through to seniors. The main things I noticed were the brilliant standard of competitions and the energy and enthusiasm within the industry. It fills me with confidence that there are chefs that will be filling our boots in the future.

“The calibre of chefs in the Junior and National Chef of Wales finals was fantastic and I think that says a lot about where cooking currently is in Wales. Events like the Welsh International Culinary Championships are important to turn the spotlight on what is going on in Wales and it’s like a springboard to launch chefs into the wider world.

“The attitude and enthusiasm of the young chefs was fantastic. You can teach them how to cook but you can’t teach them attitude. Some of the college students were competing for three days in a row and they were here until the last competition every day because they wanted to watch and learn as much as they could.”

“They chose to be here cooking rather than on holiday, which says a lot about their attitude.”

The main awards on the day included:

Junior Chef of Wales winner, Ben Mitchell, The Grove Hotel, Narberth.

National Chef of Wales winner, Ben Mitchell, Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, near Bath.

Battle for the Dragon winners, England. Open live class winner, Elise Evans, Coleg Cymoedd.

Best team live, Loughborough College.

Overall Cake Cymru winner, Dianne Swan, former Coleg Llandrillo learner.

Best hygiene award sponsored by Eco Lab, Shannon Lee, City of Liverpool College.

Best college, North Warwick and Hinckley College.