Chef Shortage

Emily Watkins: standard of training for chefs "no good"

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Watkins: "It's difficult to charge margins without being called stupidly expensive"
Watkins: "It's difficult to charge margins without being called stupidly expensive"

Related tags Chef

The standard of professional training for chefs has dropped, contributing to the industry-wide skills gap, according to Emily Watkins, chef patron of award-winning Oxfordshire pub the Kingham Plough.

The chef, who recently appeared as a judge on BBC2's Great British Menu, ​said the culinary qualification was not appropriately challenging.

“Part of the problem is the training is no good. 15 to 20 years ago they would get a pig in and butcher it," she said.

"Now they don’t do anything – these chefs turn up with an NVQ saying they can make an avocado sandwich.”

Watkins came to admire the European catering secondary school system when working in Italy in the past.

She said: “Most of the chefs I knew did it alongside the normal education syllabus – they learn business, waiting and all aspects of catering, cheffing and then in their last year they specialise in which sectors they enjoy the most.”

The attitude of the public towards hospitality professionals was much more favourable in Europe, she added. “It’s a perfectly normal industry, but here it’s seen as a slightly unique industry in its own bubble – even though the concept of being a chef has changed, it hasn’t filtered through the ranks.”

Changing attitudes

Despite changing attitudes towards the trade, Watkins said she did not know why there seemed to be so few female professional chefs.

“I don’t know what percentage it is of women in the industry but it’s got to be very small,” she added.

"If the government were to fund an advertising campaign or a TV programme around women in the kitchen, that could change the attitude.”

These chefs turn up with an NVQ saying they can make an avocado sandwich 

She said: “I’ve got an addiction to being in in the kitchen. You love it or you hate it and maybe there just aren’t enough women out there who want to do it.

“It’s a weird thing being a chef, you’ve got to be so totally mad about it that you can throw yourself into it regardless of what’s going on, whether you’re male or female doesn’t matter.”

Additional pressure

The chef said pubs faced additional pressure because some members of the public did not feel comfortable paying for high quality food in a pub environment.

She said: “It’s hard for us to charge our margins without being called stupidly expensive because people think ‘I’m eating in a pub so why am I paying £20 for a main course?

“They know that the standard of food is very high, that’s why they’re here. They know that they’re going to a quality establishment but they just feel that they’re sitting in a pub and therefore should be paying a third less.”

She said food-led pubs like hers also faced the challenge of catering to a wider range of customers with varying demands compared to traditional fine dining restaurants.

She added: “We have people who've seen us on TV coming in all dressed up and expecting formal service, you've got the weekenders who're used to the London life, you've got the people who've just driven by, spotted a pub then come in and think ‘oh it's a bit dear, where's the sandwiches?’

“You've got to be all things to all men and it is much, much harder reading that situation and acting accordingly.” 

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