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What does the future look like?

Blue Apple Development chef, Ben Mansfield, gives his perspective on moving the industry forward after facing a turbulent few years due to Covid.

‘The whole industry has gone to POT.’

‘There are no chefs out there anymore.’

‘Chefs can’t cook like they used to in the old days.’

All the above are things we have heard or even said ourselves over the last few years pre and post-the dreaded C word. Our industry took a huge hit during 2020 and is still in recovery. Further challenges including Brexit, the war in Ukraine as well as the cost-of-living crisis have meant that we have seen many changes across the hospitality sector.

Just before Covid I personally had started to lose my drive for being a chef. I was stuck in the same routine and not going anywhere, I had a lack of drive and urgency. Then I had an 8-week break thanks to lockdown before going back to the kitchen – on my own, going from 10 chefs to just me. That was tough to start with and made me feel even lower. However, it did make me think ‘What can I do’? ‘How can I carry on here’ and ‘What does the future look like?’ I read a few books and started to listen to podcasts, which really started to open my mind.

I had a mentor who was a good colleague of mine and a great coach. Most of the time we just chatted and spoke about anything and everything, but every time it came back to ‘Why! Why not? Why can’t we? Why haven’t we?’ Our sessions became based on being a positive disruptor. I used the quiet time at work to learn new culinary skills, and revisit old skills and techniques that I hadn’t been able to use for a while as we were always short-staffed or didn’t have enough time. As we got busier and I had more chefs return to the kitchen, they were saying why are you doing it like that? We always did it this way…my response was yes but can we do it in a quicker, different, or easier way? You have skills, qualities, and experience, so let’s use them to your full potential. I wanted to share my experience even more than I had before.

We also started well-being walks on our quiet days where we would grab a coffee and have a 20-minute walk outside and just talk about anything but work. Sometimes it was around what film we watched last night or where I took my dog for a walk. Often it would come back to dish ideas and food, it was great. We gained a stronger understanding and respect for each other, and it was just what everyone needed.

That’s when I realised, yes, the industry has changed but by adapting we can improve and keep up. We can do so much better… for instance, this company makes good Focaccia, but can we make a better one? Hell yes – or at least we will give it a good old try.

We started trying things that we hadn’t done before, asking people to make things that they didn’t normally do. And guess what we all loved it. We were pushing ourselves and learning. As a team, we were starting to feel pride and a buzz around what we were producing, and it was starting to feel how it used to in the “good old days” but better.

Over the last 2 or 3 years I have never seen so many new pop-ups, street food stalls, or event caterers opening and lots of them are not from a catering background. If a London cab driver can open an Artisan bakery (the best Marmite sourdough ever) and a PR executive can start an open-fire cooking events company, then why is our industry struggling to find great chefs? Or do we need to focus more on the teams we have with better planning properly for people’s progression and perhaps stop being so tunnel-visioned when looking for the right new candidates?

I don’t have the answers, but I am excited to be a part of the industry.

People still need to eat, people still want to eat, and people want to cook. That’s why we do what we do. People and the love of food.

- Ben Mansfield

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