Gerry Maher (far left) will have to replace exec chefs Stuart Webb (centre), now at Qudos Arena, and Gürsu Mertel (right) who has moved to WestHQ. Picture: Oneill Photographics

Australian Turf Club executive chef Gürsu Mertel will move to WestHQ, finishing up at Rosehill Gardens on June 30. Mertel, a former executive chef at Taronga Zoo’s Me-Gal restaurant, has picked up several awards and has also been awarded two Australian Good Food Guide hats in the past and is following a former mentor to the Western Sydney venue. WestHQ and Mertel have both been approached for comment.

Royal Randwick executive chef Stuart Webb is also on the move to Qudos Bank Arena with Gerry Maher, newly-promoted to general manager culinary operations, appointing Craig Knudsen (ex Luna Lu) to executive chef.

After a brief stint, Gosford RSL has also lost former Blacktown Workers Lifestyle Group and Cabra-Vale Diggers exec chef Kiran Arora but is yet to announce a replacement.

Parramatta Leagues Club, meanwhile, has secured former Bankstown Sports executive chef Helmut Gudendorfer to ramp up its F&B presence. Parra Leagues had to manage for several months over the summer without an executive chef before eventually securing Gundendorfer as a replacement for Paul Jury (ex DOOLEYS, Norths Collective) who moved to Liverpool Catholic Club.

Former Bankstown Sports executive chef Helmut Gundendorfer has moved to Parra Leagues. Picture: Facebook

“It is certainly a challenging time,” says Future Food director Allan Forsdick who counts Parra Leagues as a client. “We are very aware of the trials faced by clubs to secure (and retain) talent. 

“The current economic climate and low levels of unemployment are creating high levels of workforce competition, which directly affects talent retention. It is my perspective that retaining talent is as, if not more, important than finding talent.”

Forsdick says clubs are in a unique environment in the industry where many clubs have a food focus but some struggle with their food operations for a variety of reasons, including stifled creativity, off-trend food offerings and ageing kitchen infrastructure. These factors can all contribute to the loss of talent.

“Clubs need to understand the barriers to retaining top talent and to understand their satisfaction drivers. It is unlikely to be just a question of salary/package alone,” says Forsdick who is currently on the hunt for F&B operators with a proven hospitality capability in the club environment to run Mulwala Water Ski Club’s new venue.

“Staff – regardless of department – typically have needs and aspirations beyond their remuneration. Core drivers of talent retention can include examples such as work recognition, connection with their peers and teams, a comfortable working environment, hours and conditions that align with their life circumstances, engagement with management, learning and advancement. In addition, chefs are frequently inventive types who seek to have creative input and direction.”

*This story corrects a previous version with apologies to ATC general manager culinary operations Gerry Maher for misinterpreting the information.

In his latest column for Club Management, consultant Paul Rifkin addresses this issue of top-level kitchen staff shortages, asking the question ‘Where are all the chefs?’ and suggesting how to work with fewer of them. Check it out now.

Gosford RSL is yet to name a new executive chef although it nears completion of its $45m rebuild.

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