'London College of Food' needed to overhaul chef education

Colleges offering catering courses should unite to improve the quality of chef training, says Centre for London report

Stephen Exley

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Catering colleges in the capital should unite to create a new London College of Food, according to a new report.

The Centre for London thinktank has called for the 16 FE colleges offering catering courses to create a “networked institution with several campuses across London, following the model of the University of the Arts London”.

The report argues that the sector must “urgently” address working conditions through a long-term strategy to improve working conditions, which would include a “zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying, and paying all staff the London Living Wage”.

Chefs should also work together to establish an “Institute of Chefs and Cooks” to spread best practice and “give the profession a strong voice”.

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Mass exodus

More than one in five (21 per cent) of the UK’s chefs work in London, and the number of chefs in the city has tripled to 55,000 over the last 10 years, the report states.

However, it adds, “approximately 10 per cent of the UK workforce – around 20,000 chefs – leave the profession every year”.

The report claims that “many employers don’t believe colleges prepare young chefs with the range of skills needed to thrive in the workplace”. It also raises concerns about the low number of apprentices in the capital, with just 660 people starting a chef apprenticeship in London last year – 12 per cent of the total for England.

“The challenges around recruitment are likely to be amplified in the coming years, as London's restaurant scene is heavily reliant on migrant workers; around 85 per cent of London’s chefs were born abroad, compared to 50 per cent in the rest of the UK,” it adds.

A 'chef apprenticeship dark spot'

Co-author Nicolas Bosetti, research manager for the Centre for London, said: “London’s food scene is booming but the city does not do enough to inspire chef talent.

“Despite being home to some of the best catering colleges in the country, London’s culinary education offer isn’t specialised and high profile enough. And London is a chef apprenticeship dark spot.

“London’s restaurants and colleges need to cultivate local culinary talent to maintain and grow the city's global and national reputation as a hub for culinary creativity and good food, and benefit its workers.”

'Fundamental issues'

Gary Hunter, deputy principal of Westminster Kingsway College, said: “This report highlights some fundamental issues that require a new collaborative approach to hospitality training. 

“Everyone in London's hospitality and culinary industries has a responsibility to secure the future of our great city's diverse hospitality culture and ensure that London remains a leading gastronomic centre and tourist destination.”

Jules Pipe, London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills said: “The hospitality industry makes a significant contribution to our economy and has made London the world’s leading culinary destination. We recognise the challenges facing the sector and are committed to ensuring the capital is providing the skills training that best meets the needs of employers, including those in hospitality.

“We are funding apprenticeship pilot schemes, the first of which will include working with the hospitality industry to train more chefs, promote apprentices as a way of meeting skills gaps and help employers access funding to create new apprenticeships. We look forward to continuing to work with the industry to ensure it attracts the talent it needs.”

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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