A senior British minister credited with launching five ‘curry colleges’ in Britain believes that the test of the new initiative is when new graduates will be sought after by employers and restaurants in India.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles,whose love for Indian food perhaps contributed to the idea of setting up the ‘curry colleges’,wants Britons to learn Indian culinary skills to meet the shortage of chefs in the 3.2 billion pounds industry as visa restrictions make it virtually impossible to hire from the Indian sub-continent.
But Pickles wants to go further. He wants the new graduates to take their newly acquired skills to India.
According to him,the test “would be if you are going to open a top-notch Indian restaurant in Connaught Square in New Delhi,you would want a graduate of the British catering school. We are pretty close to being able to deliver that.”
The five institutions ¿ termed ‘centres of excellence’ where the six-week training courses will be delivered under the 1.75 million pounds government initiative are: Westminster Kingsway College,University of West London,Leeds City College,University College Birmingham,and Trafford College.
Owners of Indian restaurants have extended a cautious welcome,hoping that the course will enable trainees to imbibe not only the right skills but also a work ethic that involves working long hours in kitchens.
Many Indian restaurants across Britain have closed due to the chefs shortage. Recent figures indicate that there are 11,100 Asian and Oriental restaurants throughout the UK,which represents 10 per cent of all restaurants.
Chefs shortage has also hit Chinese and restaurants offering other international fare.
Speaking to The House,a magazine focusing on the House of Commons,Pickles said: “What the government is trying to ensure is that there is a quality level so that people involved in the Asian catering industry get a full discipline in terms of management skills beside the catering skills”.
Brian Wisdom,chief executive of People 1st,a skills council for the hospitality industry,said: “There is an ongoing skills shortage across the country,particularly for chefs. The Centres of Excellence have been established to develop home grown talent to support an industry that is at the heart of the fabric of British life.”
Extending a cautious welcome,Rajesh Suri of the Tamarind group told BBC: “You just cannot fill the jobs overnight – training people takes three to four years.”
He added that it had been a problem getting young people here to commit to the long hard slog of training to be a chef.
Many British and European lovers of spicy Indian food have acquired mastery over cooking the delights of Indian cuisine in their homes,but Immigration minister Damian Green and his colleagues want to “train more British workers”.
Some institutes such as Bradford College have already started offering courses where students are taught the complex skills to cook popular ‘desi’ dishes.
Those enrolling on the courses include many non-Asians,but it will be some time before the newly-qualified chefs are able to fill the skills gap in the industry.
Under changes to immigration rules,chefs were dropped from the ‘shortage occupation list’ in March 2011,among other changes,that make it mandatory for owners of Indian restaurant to pay chefs recruited from outside the EU at least 28,260 pounds annually.
Owners of Indian restaurants say they simply cannot afford to pay that salary.