The drive to attract more Britons to become chefs in Asian restaurants has failed to tackle the shortage, industry leaders have claimed.
Restaurateurs claim college courses and apprenticeships have not produced enough talent to address the crisis. Curry houses still need to rely on chefs from south Asia, which means getting around beefed up immigration laws.
TV chef Cyrus Todiwala will make a fresh move to train up Britons with a new programme for teaching Asian cuisine with the University of West London. He will also judge a competition called Zest Quest Asia next Monday (16) to find the best British chef of Asian cuisine.
Todiwala told Eastern Eye: “From our side, we are trying as much as we can to motivate but it’s not going to be sufficient. The government initiatives are there but it’s doing nothing as there are not enough skilled people.
“It takes up to eight years to be a professional tandoor chef.”
He added: “Asians don’t encourage their kids to go into the sector because of traditional beliefs, ‘how can you become a cook? Become a doctor, accountant or engineer instead.’ If you grow up in a restaurant family, you only see your parents slogging morning and night, you don’t see the other side [rewards].”
According to immigration rules, a skil-led chef from outside the EU can only be brought in if they have five years expe-rience and are paid a minimum of £29,570 a year after deductions for accommodation and meals. And the job cannot be in a fast-food outlet or an eatery which provides a take-away service.
Enam Ali, head of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs, said the government needs to relax the rule which prevents restaurants with a takeaway service from hiring from abroad.
Ali, who runs Le Raj restaurant in Epsom, Surrey, told EE: “It’s an unbelievable rule, I can’t understand why. Restaurants are suffering and closing, the industry is in a terrible situation.
“We are looking for chefs, and training takes time. I haven’t seen anything significant from colleges’ recruitment.”
His view is echoed by Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association. He said his organisation launched a London School of Curry, but lost funding when the coalition government came into power in 2010.
“Anybody is able to sponsor a chef, but the criteria you have to fulfil, nobody can do it. The amount of money you have to provide, the business you have to show, the human resources you have to provide, for a small business, it’s impossible to do it.
“A chef in a curry house has to have a few years working in a kitchen. You can’t just come out of university and expect to start working as a chef. It’s practical experience that’s required.”
Iqbal Wahhab is chair of the Asian Restaurants Skills Board, which was formed in 2012 by communities secretary Eric Pickles to boost the profile of high-end Asian cuisine.
Wahhab believes encouraging home-grown talent to take college courses is the solution to growing the industry.
He said: “The Asian Restaurant Skills Board and our Mastara Chef programme have worked with government and People 1st to implement strategies that will entice greater numbers of young people here to take advantage of courses.
“There are also weekend courses, called the Junior Chefs Academy, which are working very well and will in time deliver results.
“Our remit is to drive more young people through these courses so they can realise the prospect of becoming the next Cyrus Todiwala, Atul Kochhar or Vivek Singh is very much open to them.
“Yes, we need more talent but a more constructive approach would be for restaurateurs to open themselves up for apprenticeships for young people and engage with local schools and colleges rather than yearn for the days when we could bring overseas labour in easily.”