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How restaurants are weathering the so-called ‘chef shortage’

Even America’s finest restaurants say hiring has become incredibly difficult. “There aren’t enough qualified cooks — or unqualified cooks,” says a restaurant owner.

Gotham Bar and Grill is a top-rated New York City restaurant with a coveted Michelin star. Not that long ago, it would have been a dream destination for those aspiring to a culinary career. But there’s no waiting line of figures in kitchen whites today.

“If I had a position open in the kitchen, I might have 12 resumes, call in 3 or 4 to [try out] in the kitchen, and make a decision [a few years ago],” co-owner and chef Alfred Portale told Fortune. “Now it’s the other way around; there’s one cook and 12 restaurants” chasing that candidate.

Chefs from all say that getting kitchen talent is tougher than baking a soufflé during an earthquake, and it’s painful for those who are working in kitchens. “All the salary guys are working unforgivable hours, 70 hours [a week]” to make up for the lack, southern California chef and restaurateur Brian Malarkey told Fortune.

The employee drought has multiple causes.

Too many restaurants

Restaurant ownership is a bucket list item for many, and the improved economy has meant many more new restaurants. In the greater Denver area, ten new fine dining restaurants would open in a normal year. “Last year, there were something like 50,” said Eric Skokan, chef and owner of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare restaurants in downtown Boulder. “There aren’t enough qualified cooks … or unqualified cooks.”

Those entitled millennials

People used to start at the bottom and work their way up. No longer. “Younger people are looking for the quick buck instead of investing in their future,” said Kevin Templeton, executive chef of barleymash in San Diego. Susan Robbins, president of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, or C-CAP, which works to prepare underserved students for culinary careers, noted an “impatient culture” that expects instant success.

TV is one reason. “They all want to be Anthony Bourdain,” said Chris Coombs, chef/owner of Boston Urban Hospitality, which operates three restaurants. “The television era has warped the perception of how much work it takes to get from where they are to where [Bourdain] is.”

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