Marlborough businesses struggle to find trained chefs

The team at Raupo, from left, Julian Butterlin, Jugal Kishore, owner Stephane Ughetto and Satinder Singh.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

The team at Raupo, from left, Julian Butterlin, Jugal Kishore, owner Stephane Ughetto and Satinder Singh.

Too many cooks in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster, but restaurants in Marlborough are having the opposite problem, finding them.

The problem is a nationwide issue, as the growing New Zealand hospitality industry struggles to fill vacancies for a job known for its long, anti-social hours and pressure.

In Marlborough, the added issue of seasonality creates a rush each year to attract temporary workers, many from overseas, to cater for growing tourism numbers.

Raupo Cafe owner Stephane Ughetto said it took two years to build a stable team at his Blenheim cafe.

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There was no shortage of people willing to try their hand in the kitchen, but finding qualified chefs was difficult, he said.

"A lot of people want to come in and give it a go, but they don't have much experience so you have to spend time training them."

Ughetto said it would be easy for him to find short-term workers, but the drawback was a lack of consistency, which he said was crucial for developing a loyal customer base.

Having long-term employees created familiarity with customers, and ensured the staff knew what was required of the service and the food.

"That's how you create your most important business, your local customers over the winter - if you don't have that you die," he said.

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Other Marlborough hospitality providers, such as Fairhall restaurant Arbour and Allan Scott winery restaurant Twelve Trees, took the same approach, keeping staff on when business was slow.

Arbour owner Liz Buttimore said during the shoulder season, between June and September, staff undertook training and other tasks so they could maintain their hours.

"We save our money over summer and keep it in a wages account so we can retain our staff over winter," she said.

"It's crucial, because every time you lose a staff member you lose knowledge."

Other restaurants relied on fixed-term contracts for the busy summer season, something which made the prospect of moving to Marlborough less appealing for chefs who wanted to settle in the region.

Watery Mouth owner Juliet Partington said finding qualified chefs was difficult, something she thought would be harder if restaurants were only able to offer six month contracts.

However, both she and Buttimore said Marlborough had the advantage of offering a quality lifestyle, which might prove the difference in luring chefs to the region.

Hospitality New Zealand operations and advocacy general manager Tracy Scott said the shortage of chefs had been a problem for the past several years.

This was down to a combination of factors, including the growth of the hospitality industry and immigration rules, that had since been relaxed to include chefs on the essential skills shortlist, she said.

Unlike Europe and the United States, where cheffing was seen as a viable career path, New Zealanders were less likely to pursue a career in the kitchen, however Scott said the association was working to change this perception.

She said the shortage was felt more acutely in areas that depended on tourism, because of the growth in the industry and subsequent demand for more hospitality providers.

However, because places like Marlborough were seen as desirable travel locations, restaurants were then able to source chefs and kitchen staff on working holidays, she said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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