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Kitchen Mechanics, Redux

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Dr Frank Cullen, Head of School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology at D.I.T. wrote to us with a lengthy retort to Gary O'Hanlon's Kitchen Mechanics series.
It's not possible to print the entire piece on the web, so we have edited Dr Cullen's piece.

Many chefs seem to think that working hard for little or no pay is a badge of honour and that this badge of honour must be maintained. Do surgeons, nurses, doctors, care workers or air traffic controllers have a similar badge of honour for their trainees? I do not think so, they value their trainees. The medical profession campaigned to increase the payment and reduce the working hours. ‘Scrap the culinary colleges’ according to Gary, but what about attempting to encourage young chefs gain an education that expands beyond the cooker and to think outside of the kitchen box.

Gary also believes that the Government needs to subsidise the ‘young cooks’ wages. Why should the tax payer subsidise a young chef working in the hospitality industry? I do believe there is an argument to introduce a starting pay just above the current minimum pay rates for chefs, because we all agree, it is hard work and hard work should be rewarded. But it should be incremented until the young chefs are qualified through the college system. Just learning how to cook and being in ‘total control of the cooking’ will not cut the mustard when it comes to running a business: sorry Gary, but you are wrong about the ‘pot walloping’ approach.

According to Gary, we should scrap the Holy Grail and bring back the days of ‘The Rosapenna System’. ‘Young cooks coming out of college CAN’T COOK’. These comments suggest you have not moved with the times, where we seek to educate the young chef with transferable skills that they can apply to other careers in the wider food business when the pressure of the kitchen becomes too much as they become older.

The key to a good standard of living is an education with a blended skill set of knowledge and know-how that offers transferability and adaptability to ensure employability long into the individuals working life. ‘Scrap all colleges’? I don’t so. Such comments are misguided and limited at best because they demonstrate a lack of value in chefs. Think again about what is been suggested, how many older chefs still work in kitchens?  

Now think about this: Mark Moriarty had just graduated with his BA Honours Degree in Culinary Arts, a young man who has all the key skills that will provide a long and successful working life, and within six months of graduation he was crowned ‘The World Young Chef of the Year’ 2015. According to Gary, this would not be possible because ‘young cooks coming out of college CAN’T COOK’ or would Gary have us believe that Mark learnt all his skills in industry? I will let the readers be the judge of that.

Has it not sunk into anyone working in the industry that the shortage of chefs might be because of articles wrote similar to the ‘Kitchen Mechanics’ about the badge of honour that can only be received by working hard for little or no payment, having a passion, avoiding ‘pot walloping’ and other similar tripe? What comes with a good education is a good standard of living and the ability to run a business or, in my case, one of the best and most successful culinary schools in the country; a school that offers programmes that will facilitate graduates young and older to carve out worthwhile careers in the culinary and wider food and beverage industries, creating young chefs like Mark Moriarty, chefs that Ireland can be and is proud of.  

Scrap the Kitchen Mechanics tripe and start writing about things that help promote the industry or stick to what you know best: cooking.  I would suggest that if you really do care about the industry, and I have no reason to think otherwise, write your next blog about how you assisted or intend to assist the Holy Grail of Chef's College to combat the major cutbacks in funding for the education of chefs. Promote engagement between industry and culinary schools and lead by example, then I will sit up and take notice.

When was the last time you entered the Holy Grail College and asked them how you might help educate the students? Offer to give a demonstration free of charge and write about that experience.

Gary is right about one thing ‘Ireland has never been… in a stronger position as a food destination’ this is because we educate our population. The graduates leaving culinary schools are business as well as chef graduates.

To be fair to Gary, his experiences brought me back and provided for some memorable reading of times gone by. But these times are and should be long gone. Ireland is a food destination with a well educated population, including educated chefs that can and will enhance the standard of living in this great country. To encourage new chefs to enter the profession everyone needs to promote the business in a positive manner and provide a meaningful balance between work and life.

Until that happens we will always experience a shortage of chefs, and going back in time will clearly not work.

Read Gary O'Hanlon's Kitchen Mechanics, Part 1

Read Gary O'Hanlon's Kitchen Mechanics, Part 2

Read Gary O'Hanlon's Kitchen Mechanics, Part 3

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