Strengthening Pipeline of Talented Chefs

While the Year of Food and Drink continues to gather momentum with restaurants and at shows and festivals across Northern Ireland, we have begun to consider how best to carry the campaign forward into 2017 by developing legacy initiatives especially in key areas such as innovation.

We want, for instance, to build on the tremendous support for Year of Food and Drink provided by so many of our immensely talented chefs. We are considering a scheme to enable up and coming chefs, students from colleges across Northern Ireland to sharpen their skills with those in Northern Ireland and further afield with much greater experience. Over the past few months, for example, we’ve supported visits here by celebrity chefs such as Jean-Christophe Novelli, who highlighted the magnificent Clipper Kitchens in Derry, part of the Foyle Maritime Festival, and Romy Gill, a welcome guest to the Salmon and Whiskey Festival in Bushmills.

We’d certainly wish to see more female chefs coming to the fore, and I’ve been immensely encouraged to see some ‘stars of the future’ leaving colleges as award winners. Of course, we have several trail blazers like Paula McIntyre, Trish Deseine, Jenny Bristow and Danni Barry, the only female Michelin star chef in Ireland. But we need more to help us in continuing to enhance our position as a destination offering culinary excellence. michele

I was interested to read a recent report that only about a fifth of professional chefs in Ireland are female. It’s a problem facing every part of Europe. Earlier in 2016, for example, the influential French food magazine Le Chef released its 100 of The Best Chefs in the World 2016. The list is created by asking 528 Michelin-starred-chef voters to each provide a list of five names of those who they think best represent the cooking profession. Only four women were listed in the Top 100, none of then in the top10! And at the recent Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) Awards, held in Dublin, in the categories for individual winners, featuring Best Chef and Best Restaurant Manager, all the awards went to men. A report by the Irish government -Future Skills Needs of the Hospitality Sector – released late last year, estimated that there were 23,948 chefs in Ireland in 2014. Around 20 per cent were women. Research in the UK estimated there are around 250,000 chefs, only 18.5 per cent women.

Interestingly the first female chef in the UK to hold three Michelin Stars, Clare Smyth, is from Co. Antrim. She was also acclaimed for her skills by the Good Food Guide. Clare, in a recent interview, reckons female chefs could be doing more to promote themselves more effectively. Perhaps, we shouldn’t be focusing on gender and women chefs and instead should be talking in terms of addressing the shortage of chefs per se. The legacy initiatives we have in mind won’t be gender specific. What we want is to develop the strongest pipeline possible of talented and creative chefs and the conditions in which they operate. Working as a chef is often a tough and demanding vocation, and this contributes to the overall shortage of qualified chefs, including women, across the island in what is a fast growing sector. Government departments, the colleges and professional and representative bodies here are aware of the manpower challenge and are addressing this.

Our focus will continue to be on developing practical initiatives that support and enhance those of other public and private sector organisations and encouraging those in hospitality to aim for excellence at a national and international level.