Supporting our Chefs of the Future – An interview with The Staff Canteen.com

Hospitality students from Staffordshire College recently spent time working with The Lewis Partnership Group Executive Chef Matt Davies as part of their Student Placement Scheme.  The Staff Canteen spoke to Matt to find out more about the scheme, the chef shortage in the industry and how important it is for young chefs leaving college to shake the stigma of not being ‘classically’ trained.

Matt davies team low res

Kicking off at the beginning of this month, the future chairman of the British Culinary Federation has got his students working in both front and back of house.

Matt Davies, Vice Chairman of the British Culinary Federation and executive chef of The Lewis Partnership feels that the placement scheme is helping with the skill shortage in the industry. He said: “You’re only as strong as the people who work for you, so if you haven’t got an element of young blood through the doors, as everybody knows it is a shortage of skill, then your restaurant will fail.

“You need young people coming through the doors that you can train and mentor. The scheme is for Year 1, 2, and 3 Hospitality students to show them what it is really like to work in a restaurant.”

They are working with real chefs and waiters, Matt explained: “I don’t personally get them to come in and stand in the back room peeling potatoes all day long, they come into our business.”

The scheme is funded by the Savoy Trust, which pays for the students transport such as mini buses, as well as necessary uniform and knives. The scheme has been running for the past five years, and the Savoy Trust has been on board every year without fail. Matt was previously a teacher at Staffordshire College, and played an important role in devising and launching the Lewis Partnership and the Staffordshire College Hospitality Foundation. After Matt spoke to the hospitality lecturers and governors the scheme was built into the students’ curriculum.

The scheme has been a roaring success, Matt explained: “It works tremendously for us, obviously with the chef shortage; we as a business then get to know the students, understand the students. There are some students that shine, are absolutely fantastic, are really keen, and then there’s a discussion of a part-time job, then we take them on part-time.

“We support them through their curriculum as they’re at college, then when they finish college they then have a full-time position in any of our kitchens, and over the past four or five years, [we have] took 20 plus candidates into the business.”

There is belief that chefs coming out of college are not classically trained, Matt wants to overcome this stigma. He explained: “They put the skill shortage down to chefs not being shown the correct classical ways of cooking. Maybe that is an element, hence why I have developed this foundation to show them what they are doing at college, what they can be doing in the industry, so hopefully we can fill that gap.”

Throughout the student placement scheme, as the executive chef of The Lewis Partnership, Matt has fully briefed all of his head chefs. To name a few, the student chefs are working on sections such as garnish, sauce, fish, and pastry. Matt said: “They work through the week on each section to see what it actually takes to produce food, at this standard in a professional environment.”

Matt felt that the chef/skill shortage can be resolved by capturing the attention of future chefs from a young age. He explained: “You need to start with the schools; you need to start with the foundations. It’s not just about taking people at 18/19 [years old], you need to get people cooking very early and interested in the business and hospitality business, hence that’s where future chefs comes along .”

A way of getting younger people to engage with their interest in cooking can be through the British Culinary Federation. Matt explained: “It runs every quarter for eight weeks, and then from that we grab them young, and then we show them the ropes every Saturday morning, and from that, especially the 16 year olds, if they are interested in taking it any further, we then talk about apprenticeships, going to college, or coming to work.

MH Kitchen

“There are many, many outlets, many ways that you can train to be a chef, not just an apprenticeship, yes apprenticeships are very important, but there are also many different ways to get into the business.”

Matt is also an affiliated partner with The University College of Birmingham has been working on improving the chef/skill shortage for years through programmes such as the student placement scheme. It is common for many chefs to discuss the shortage on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Matt said: “I shout as much as you should do, but when you look on Facebook, there is always skill shortage this and skill shortage that, but yes, if there is, what are we doing about it? Stop shouting about it, do something.”

Matt is very passionate about his programme and wants his students to go on to do well. He explained: “I have students that have come to me for the past six years who have worked at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Murano, Hibiscus, Le Manoir, I pushed people from college, and I’ve trained them.”