In the last three years Peterborough has seen a 36 per cent growth in casual dining restaurants, and in the last 18 months I’ve been thinking more and more about the future of the restaurant industry and the next generation of chefs, says Peterborough chef Lee Clarke. What is there to be excited about? And what should we be wary of? How do make sure this growth continues?
One thing to be happy about is that the ‘Gordon Ramsay Chef’ is dead. The time of angry, foul-mouthed rants from chefs is coming to an end – there’s enough heat in the kitchen as it is.
In fairness to Gordon Ramsay, we all know a lot of that was for the cameras, and he has always shown a side that is willing to teach, care and support. Head chefs are starting to realise that it is these traits that provide the best results from their staff – a calm approach, strong focus and discipline.
Training has become integral to the industry’s future, with 51% of catering colleges seeing enrolments drop. By 2020, we’ll need a predicted 11,000 new chefs (People 1st). The end of the ‘Angry Chef’ era has coincided with the need for head chefs to nurture and mentor their staff more than ever.
I was lucky enough to begin training at 17 at Peterborough Regional College, where I was able to secure an exchange to the French city of Poitiers – an eye-opening and revolutionary experience. I do my best to support my staff in the same way; we have taken on an apprentice at Prévost this year and in the past I’ve sent chefs to everything from chocolate workshops to learn how to make truffles to bakery courses at Westminster College, London.
Another positive and innovative trend that is growing in the industry is the introduction of 4-day working weeks for chefs. The two-star Michelin restaurant, Sat Bains, in Nottingham has been a leader in this – providing chefs with a better work-life balance that means they’re more productive, happy and driven.
In all of this however there are some things to be wary of. With the need for chefs so high, there’s a temptation to fast-track young chefs to the top – but this can be dangerous. A lot of young chefs chase a bigger salary in detriment to their training and experience. The best chefs have manned every station in the kitchen at one point in their career. It’s important to remember the graft is linked to the gain – and the more you graft the more comfortable and controlled you will feel when you finally step up to the pass.
I am taking part in the Celebration of Youth Day in Peterborough on August 20 – and with any luck I might encourage a budding chef. If I do, I hope they’ll see that I only got to where I am today because of the support and mentorship of the chefs around me. Listen, take opportunities and work hard - and when you can, pass the same message on to those who look up to you.
Lee Clarke is head chef at Prévost, 20 Priestgate, Peterborough