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Chef's Pass - inploi meets the Founders of The TMRW Project

Chef's Pass - inploi meets the Founders of The TMRW Project inploi Team | 14.12.2016

The TMRW Project is looking to the future of the hospitality industry. With national press widely rebuking the industry’s skill deficit, the project’s founders: Dan Doherty (Executive Chef at Duck & Waffle), Anna Sulan Masing (Writer and Communications Manager at Aqua Restaurant Group) and Emma Underwood (General Manager at Burnt Truffle) are working to change the conversation surrounding the hospitality sector.

Founded in 2015, The TMRW Project’s initial focus was working with young chefs to expand their horizons beyond the walls of their own kitchen, and ‘Chefs of Tomorrow’ was born. Run as a series of pop-up dinners, four chefs (all Chef de Partie or below in their own kitchens) worked together cooking one course each to create a unique dining experience. Hosted in restaurant venues across London, the young chefs were mentored, both by Dan and by the restaurant head chefs - working together to refine their dishes and tailor the overall menu.

Following the Chefs of Tomorrow’s inaugural success, they ran the series again in 2016, this time introducing the chefs to sommeliers and London’s top mixologist, Richard Wood, challenging them to think about their food at a different level - how it pairs with drinks, and how chefs in the kitchen connect with the Front of House and guest experience. Dan commented: “Kitchens are great places to bring people out of their shells and help them grow in confidence. After a while though, it can almost have the reverse effect, and limit the new found confidence to within those kitchen walls. It's so important to change the working environment as often as often as possible and to make new friends. If this is achieved in the early stages of one’s career, it becomes second nature.”

However, after their first year working on the project, Dan and Anna realised that they should incorporate a Front of House element into the project. With the narrative following chefs in recent years elevating them to “rock ‘n’ roll” status, Front of House staff are all too often kept out of the spotlight, something that Anna is particularly keen to change, commenting: “I feel like front of house is a bit more close to my heart because they get the raw deal. They are performing constantly, but there’s no really good way to tell that story.” They therefore brought Emma Underwood (General Manager at Burnt Truffle) onto the team, and introduced a new element to The TMRW Project, ‘The Switch’.

Launched in 2016, The Switch is in a similar format to a chef stage placement, whereby two restaurants swap a member of staff (or more) for a week. Tying-in with National Waiter’s Day and Springboard’s Front of House Festival, The Switch takes place in October, promoting this particular sector of the industry. Emma hit the ground running, connecting people between London and Manchester to get The Switch off the ground, with eight restaurants participating in the first year; including Pidgin and Noble Rot. Anna added: “Two were too small to do the full-switch, so they just took on people, and Black Swan (a Michelin-star restaurant in Yorkshire) did two switches. The switched sommeliers and junior managers with The Man Behind The Curtain and Duck & Waffle. We had a lot of different people involved.”

The third element and final element of The TMRW Project (for now!) is a series of industry panel discussions. Aimed at both those already working within the industry and those interested in exploring career paths available, the talks cost £5 to attend; making them accessible to people at all levels. Focusing initially on women in hospitality, a panel of the industry’s leaders, including Karen Barnes (Editor at Delicious. Magazine), Lisa Markwell (Journalist & former Editor at The Independent on Sunday) Grace Welch (Restaurant Manager at Spring) and Sam Williams (Head Chef at Cafe Murano) formed a ‘Women in Hospitality Salon’ to discuss issues of training, bullying and personal support for women pursuing careers in the industry. In spite of the challenging topics put to the fore, the aim is to put a positive spin on them, focusing on where we are with women in the industry and how the future can be shaped to make it a more appealing career path.

The Vision for TMRW...

One of the most remarkable elements of The TMRW Project is how quickly it has gained traction across the UK. From the response that Anna and Dan received, it seems that other chefs, restaurant managers and hospitality professionals share the same vision for the industry’s future. 

There is clearly a chef shortage, and despite the rise of chefs being showcased on social media over the last decade, the founders of the project were keen to reiterate the importance of realistic profiling when introducing younger generations to careers in hospitality. Like many other industries, there are few quick wins to be had. The industry is tough, both physically and emotionally, but can also provide great rewards to those who work hard and love what they do.

The narrative surrounding careers in hospitality therefore needs to change - building into alternative spaces where young people are, but also re-shaping attitudes at an inter-generational level. Younger generations may look up to chefs on TV or social media and think, “Hey, that’s cool - I want to do that”, but few are likely to turn around and say, “I want to be a waiter for life”. Emma commented: “It is an all too common view that working in Front of House is servile, mundane, and is not a suitable career for those with intelligence. The reality is quite the opposite. Working out front is constantly challenging, it requires quick thinking and the ability to charm while under pressure. This makes it hugely rewarding”. Both kitchen and front of house roles provide life-long careers for many in the UK, although the stories that are pushed to the fore in traditional press and online might suggest otherwise. The message ultimately needs to trickle down as well as up if the perception of working in hospitality is going to change across the UK. We asked Dan who we should be looking out for as chefs of the future, his comment summarised the problem at hand: “Who to look out for? Well, if we don't continue to drive the industry as an enticing one, our choices will be limited…

Changing HR Perspectives in Hospitality…

Both Anna and Emma further pointed out three less widely discussed lateral aspects of recruitment in hospitality:

  1. ‘Cross-over effects’

The movement of staff transferring from front of house into kitchens or vice-versa. Anna commented: “Working front of house, you do become part of the kitchen, you talk to the kitchen and you would get people moving over. I think whichever side you’re on, it will absolutely have cross-over effects.”

  1. ‘Training to leave’

This describes the movement of people between restaurants and hotels through informal ‘training to leave’ patterns, whereby employers upskill their staff so they can be promoted into a higher position either internally or elsewhere (and perhaps return in the future to fulfil a more senior role). Emma commented: “Fears of ‘poaching’ too often guide how we interact with one another, but should always be counteracted with full confidence in your own product. The competitiveness within this industry will always be present, but it should be channelled into positivity. If anyone ‘steals’ an idea it’s only ever a compliment. Greater connectivity within the hospitality industry would be wonderful, to help turn it into the community it deserves to be.” The value of cyclical training patterns would have a large network effect on the industry and at present is largely undiscussed. If employers treat their staff well and train them appropriately, then not only are they more likely to retain team members, but also attract more talented applicants - creating a circle of positive training and promotion over time. 

  1. Flexible working and job-sharing

Effectively implemented at Duck & Waffle, Tredwell’s and larger groups such as Corbin & King, organising staff rotas around employee needs has shown to improve employee experience and create stronger, and happier teams.

The TMRW Project 2017…

In 2017, The TMRW Project team has plans to go national - with both The Switch and Chefs of Tomorrow taking place at locations across the UK. If you’re interested in finding out more about their plans, you can follow them @TMRW_project on Twitter, or visit The TMRW Project website here

Their forthcoming events are as follows:

Chefs of Tomorrow

February: London

May: Northern England (Manchester)

July: Scotland (Edinburgh)

September: Southern England (Oxford)

Industry Panels

2 talks are planned in Northern England, and two in the south.

The Switch

October: Front of House stages (Nationwide) 

Previous Chefs of Tomorrow Participants:

Alex Jones, Brunswick House 

Max Maclean, Pidgin

Ross McGrath, Duck & Waffle 

April Partridge, Clove Club

Evelyn Ragui, Aqua Shard

Evan O'Ceallaigh, Koffmann's

Marco Roselli, Bernardis

Rachel Karasik, The Bream Team

Matthew Ramsdale, Michael Caine

Nathan Bere, Petersham Nurseries

Julien Pickersgill, The Modern

John Chantarasak, Som Saa

Natasha Poroosotum, Ham Yard Hotel

Blo Deady, Supper Club Host

Lorant Baratki, L'Escargot

Want to get involved? Visit their website here!

Photo credit: Ming Tang-Evans

If you would like to learn more about the TMRW Project, catch our latest interview here: inploi meets Emma Underwood, The TMRW Project

About the author: Victoria Bushnell is Head of Marketing/PR at inploi.

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