Perhaps older Australians are the answer to the chef shortage.

In this column, club consultant Paul Rifkin asks the question: Where are all the chefs?

The challenge for many catering operations is “Where are the chefs?”. I have many clients who are desperate to find some, one, any. Yes, I know, we are all looking! In the Snowy Mountains, the season-opening weekend still has venues with no head chef to lead the team, they are facing using agency chefs for another season, a very costly exercise. Where they used to charge for accommodation, they now provide it included, at the same time, wages on offer have been greatly increased.

Yet the takers are few, mostly inexperienced and incapable of meeting the needs and demands, also, they make unreasonable wage demands, not commensurate with their minimal experience.

In regional Australia, where rents are skyrocketing and accommodation is scant, they face the same situation.

Often, I see whole operations run by cooks, mostly older people who enjoy the kitchen life, some are experienced and some have little. One thing that defines them all is a willingness to learn and a need to have a steady income.

The reality is that older Australians, in many instances, are just not able to “retire” anymore, hence they are seeking out employment into their 60s and 70s. They are actually an often-overlooked resource in this country.

My recent travels in the USA have numerous examples of the older workforce in operation. Major restaurant operators and the National Restaurant Association confirm that this age group is the fastest-growing in the hospitality industry at present. A before-overlooked age bracket is now becoming the saviour of the hospitality industry.

I hear you say, “We can’t just put grandma into a commercial kitchen” and this is so true. The operation must have firm and controlled structures to ensure consistency of training and products.

Many kitchens have poor procedures and controls, so now is the opportunity to create and enforce these in your operation. The most profitable operations have always had this structure and now it is even more important.

A team of cooks can manage, but only if everything is laid out, Food Safety, Recipes, Pictures and Training. I see such successful operations in many clubs as I travel around as a consultant chef and am amazed at how smooth some operations are.

Perhaps it is time to adjust the way you are looking at solutions?

Paul Rifkin: Head Chef Mentoring and
Fine-Tuning Specialist for Club Catering
chefpaulrifkin consulting

Paul Rifkin

Paul Rifkin is a former club executive chef and now chef consultant to the clubs industry on menus, kitchen design and catering analysis.

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