Britain needs another 50,000 trained chefs to sustain a healthy catering industry. Shortages are at crisis point in almost every walk of life, from hospital catering and company canteens to supply of staff for top restaurants.
While the demands on training schools and industry's own apprenticeship schemes have never been greater, the standards required are tougher than they ever have been.
Colleges are increasingly called on to supply people with mutiple skills, including the ability to wait on tables, help manage wine cellars, prepare menus and manage accounts.
Even those young people who may wish to run their own cafe must face a mountain of legislation on employment law, tax regulations and health and safety rules.
The competition run by College Manager and Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies seeks to identify and reward the very best of college training restaurants. The three elements of the competition are * evidence from written submissions,
* visits by experts,
* and a final assessment by top-class chefs in the Academie Culinaire du France.
Winning colleges will be presented with kitchen equipment from prestigious manufacturers.
The guidelines and criteria for the competition have been designed to draw out the strengths of college restaurants as comprehensive training centres which provide a service to the wider community.
Bill Farnborough, director of catering and bakery programmes at Biringham, commented: "A lot of colleges have one restaurant for students to practice a variety of serving techniques and for kitchen staff to do a variety of cooking techniques.
"In the best of them, students will feel that they are in a real restaurant that gives them industry standards to perform the variety of tasks.
"Menus should promote modern trends. Many are stuck in in styles of 15 to 20 years ago. Those restaurants that offer text-book catering don't necessarily offer food which reflects the needs of the local environment.
"Bookings will reflect this too. It is no good having a 60-to-80-seat restaurant if it is only half full. Prices also reflect the feel of a place. They must not be too expensive but nor should they be give-away because this does not generate the feel of a realistic working environment."
Eddie McIntyre, who is a former chef at the Dorchester hotel in London and now principal of the Birmingham college, said: "Colleges should demonstrate how flexible they are in catering for the local community."
Wide-ranging evidence at the written submission stage of the competition will include * proof of numbers using the restaurant, * opening hours at lunch times and evenings, * demonstration of community involvement, * plans to expand community activities, * sample menus for lunch and dinner, * sample menus for functions, includingweddings, and birthdays, stating when menus were served, * and a good record of employment success among former students and trainees.