The Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s Join the Pub Brigade roundtable was organised in conjunction with Fuller's and Star Pubs & Bars, and hosted at the Truscott Arms, Maida Vale, by owner Andrew Fishwick.
Paul Dickinson, head of food, Fullers:
“I would love for a group of chefs to come together and go into schools and engage with the children and show them what fun food can be.
“We already engage with local communities and have people in for drinks in lots of our pubs — this sort of engagement is what people like.
“My job with Fullers has been about changing the perception of what it was to be a pub chef. If you say ‘pub’, people often think beer and not about the opportunity to be a great pub chef. But food is now a big driver in the pub trade and it’s been my job [within Fullers] to change the perception that the job is about [cooking food from] bags and boxes.”
Luke Davies, food development manager, Star Pubs & Bars:
“Much of the recruitment issue is about the perceptions of what it is to be a pub chef. The job advertisements out there don’t help with that either. When I pick up job descriptions for pub head chefs, none of the benefits of being a head chef in a pub are there. Instead, the adverts talk about the pub struggling.
“I sat down with a licensee who was recruiting a head chef. I asked what they wanted and it was for them to design a menu, train and manage the team, work 70 to 80 hours a week and for £15,000. It’s an archaic thing, but that is what was expected.
“That mentality is not helping the case to get more skilled chefs into the industry.”
Steve Mackin, independent training chef, Star Pubs & Bars:
“I’m passionate about people and recruiting chefs and, I think and believe, there are people out there who want to be in this sector, but it’s just that we as an industry need to engage with them, hire and retain them.
“We just don’t always go about finding them the right way and when we do get them we don’t retain them.”
Maureen Heffernan, founder and managing director, Leisure PR:
“Parents and teachers do not know where to go and look for information about careers in pub kitchens for children who might want to work in hospitality or as chefs.
“The only pubs that came up in research were JD Wetherspoon because it’s a well-known national brand. When questions about careers in this industry came up in research, people didn’t necessarily know that this career (pub chefs) existed.
“What we need is a place where people can go to find out information about our industry and what’s out there. There’s a hunger for the careers we [in the pub trade] offer and we need to promote that to the people out there.”
Jesse Dunford Wood, head chef-owner, the Parlour, Kensal Green, London:
“One of the most inspirational things I have seen in restaurants was in Chicago. This one restaurant would allow 25 to 30 kids to come in every day and have a tasting menu and have a tour of the kitchen and dishes brought out to them by everyone who worked in the restaurant. This wasn’t about the restaurant saying this is what we do, but this is something you can do if you work hard. It was amazing.
“But a career as a pub chef isn’t straightforward. I struggled with it (what a career as a pub chef looked like) personally. If I struggled to get my head around it then lots of other people will struggle further down the line.”
Dominic Chapman, chef proprietor, the Beehive, White Waltham, West Berkshire:
“I have been working in pubs for more than 10 years. I have got a restaurant background but ended up going out to the country and landing a job in a pub. I don’t know what everybody else thinks the solution [to the chef shortage] is but, maybe, we can bring people into our kitchens and inspire them with what we do.
“What we do, I believe, is the rock and roll of kitchens and that’s what I love. I love cooking and I love it every day. I love the seasons and the produce coming through the door. That’s what I love and that’s what young kids should see and love. A lot of young kids out there just don’t know about this sort of stuff.”
James Moyle-Rosser, executive chef, Whiting & Hammond:
“There are not enough good points getting out of the trade about why we do what we do. I don’t feel in my career that I have worked a day in my life. It’s almost like a hobby and I look forward to going to work every day. I do it in my spare time.
“And I do think there’s this perception across the industry that it’s a difficult job and that the hours are too long. But we should be focusing on why we do it. In any industry there are people who work hard and long hours.”
James Nye, managing director, Anglian Country Inns:
“There’s a stigma attached to it (being a pub chef) from 10 to 15 years ago when people didn’t cook but used bags and boxes. But there are so many success stories of great people climbing up the ranks.
“It’s easy to do that if you have drive and ambition but people don’t talk about how they started at the bottom of this industry and worked their way up. I have got an assistant manager who started as a pot washer four years ago. A lot of those stories are only told to their mates. Everyone around this table probably worked somewhere down the line, but how many of you tell those stories?”
James Penlington, the Bell — Stoke Mandeville, Bucks; and the Russell Arms, Butlers Cross, Bucks:
“Some people thought pub kitchens weren’t a place to work because it’s all bag and box food. It’s a shame because this is a diverse industry and if one place doesn’t work for you as a pub chef, there’s always going to be somewhere else to go.
“We have to make sure those people aren’t being put to one side because they don’t like where they work at that point.”
For more on the issues follow #JoinThePubBrigade on Twitter accounts @morningad and @pmafood