01/06/2017 08:49 BST | Updated 01/06/2017 08:49 BST

An Industry In Peril - Concerns For The Post-Brexit Culinary Landscape

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Last month's distressing, important piece from Jay Rayner on the post-Brexit culinary landscape should have struck a chord for all in the profession.

Gripped by a quiet contemplation only the paralysis of fear can induce, it resonated that those who give heart and soul to the industry, those who are the industry - the chefs and the front of house - have long been reticent and marginalised in the debate about the future of the food industry.

With a snap election just a week away, and despite questionable integrity and trust issues abound, a Conservative victory appears the likely outcome. A return to 'Thatcherism' is threatened (or promised, depending on your position) and the prospect of a hard, unforgiving Brexit looms larger and more spiteful than a restaurant critic served his dinner on a roofing tile.


The two main parties have outlined their election manifestos and it's clear that freedom of movement is going to end. Also apparent is that our framing of migration law will be broadly reciprocated by the E.U. If we value the 37% of the hospitality workforce who are migrants, and hold in high esteem our great tradition of chef's training in Europe, we need to be more vocal about the issues the industry faces.

A Debt of Gratitude to European Restaurants

The government's inflexible, unrealistic pledges to substantially cut immigration will likely be mirrored in E.U law in the interest of reciprocation (see revenge). The U.K would do well not to push its luck in negotiations.

An inhumane stance on 'borders' has the potential to devastate a much hallowed institution of the chef's professional development, that of the stage.

The stage, a chef's internship, brief and unpaid, at a top restaurant, is a source of great pride to the profession. Not only essential to a chef's learning, the stage is also inherent in the whole ethos and honour of the profession.

It promotes inclusiveness and enlightenment, emphasis placed on the sharing, never stealing, of knowledge. Friendships, colleagues, business partners and mentors are made for life here. Regardless of the notoriously volatile tempers, the discipline, the white heat and long hours of which the stagiaire must endure, the practice is grounded in civility. It is the most important part of a young chef's learning, period. The most rewarding and life-changing of these internships occur on the continent. The implications of a more bureaucratic, obstructive visa process are ominous.

Britain's current breed of forward thinking, creative chefs, without exception, all cite their European internships as invaluable to their career progression.

Of recent openings, James Lowe of Lyles, Issac McHale of the Clove Club, Michael O'Hare of Man Behind the Curtain and Tom Sellers of Restaurant Story all benefited from experience at Noma, Denmark. All now have Michelin stars. This is just one example of a list too long to document.

Labour's promise to 'immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries' should give confidence to the young stagiere. A Conservative victory may put their future in peril.

Migrant Workers - Our Lifeblood

Then, there is the more publicised, more contentious consideration of movement in the other direction. The damage to the industry of 'closing the borders' has already been documented at great length, but brush strokes have been broad.

The concern about the effect of a hard, antagonistic Brexit is twofold in this department. First and foremost, we rely on, and owe much to, migrant labour for a functioning industry. They are our lifeblood, pure and simple.


It is fact that the industry is suffering from dearth of talented, driven chefs right now. In the age of the celebrity chef and the desire for quick reward, attracting staff to the higher end of the industry, front and back of house, is notoriously fraught. Restaurants are more reliant than ever on Europe for filling positions. We should be making positions more appealing, not less.

The Brightest and Best

Secondly, the demonization of migrants and of the profession in Theresa May's manifesto is potentially catastrophic to our cherished profession. We must be very wary, and vocal, about the undervaluing of the industry in the apparent income-based hierarchy of professional importance (and therefore worker's rights) that the Prime Minister has devised.

Whilst suggesting she 'wants to welcome the brightest and best', our P.M places firm emphasis on 'strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology'. At no point is the culinary world mentioned. If the quota of migrants is filled with I.T buffs, who's going to do the cooking? As chef salaries aren't huge, the government equates this to low skill, and not worthy of taking up any room on their arbitrary migrant quota.

Not only a morally questionable stance at the very least, but also a very tangible threat to the restaurant trade.

To make an already back-breaking, demanding, anti-social job even less welcoming to the cream of the crop from Europe equates to industry suicide. Jeremy Corbyn suggest a different approach; the 'consulting with industries reliant on migrant workers'. This can explicitly be interpreted as the restaurant trade, and shows promise. Further assurances are provided, to 'allow EU workers employed across farming, fishing and food manufacturing to remain in the UK'.

Never once in a professional kitchen have I heard complaint about 'bloody foreigners taking our jobs'. Far more likely to be discussed over the stoves is a lack of staff and desire. It is of paramount importance and deep concern that current post-election,Theresa May's playing politics with post-brexit Government proposals will have Britain's restaurant industry on it's knees. Don't let this happen. Please vote.