Between the crumbling walls of an abandoned warehouse, surrounded by rubble and faded graffiti, Simon the Chef has set up tables, pots and pans. He’s on the go guerrilla-style. He has never felt confined to the four closed walls of the kitchen, and the little breath of fresh air brought about by a change of scenery is certainly good for the creative spirit. Today, the fish – an emperor snapper to be exact – that Simon holds in his hands is grilled outside in the temporary kitchen and served with manioc roots. Of course, the camera captures everything on video for social media and fans. Accompanied by a light hip-hop beat, Simon starts cooking and demonstrates his craft with full passion. His mission? To show that cooking is anything but boring and outdated. It’s his approach, anyway. Under its leadership, the Guerilla Chefs offer young chefs fresh access to the gastronomy industry that is long overdue.
Lack of chefs – lack of motivation
It is no secret that the cooking profession is suffering from its current image. According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), almost one in two drop out of their training, and it is included in various top 10 lists of the most unattractive vocational training programs. Many feel that they are only being used as cheap labor, that they know little about the creative side of the profession, and that they are barely equipped for the digital age. Misconceptions that candidates have about the actual day-to-day work of their profession converge here with the often unaccommodating offers made by businesses, which results in a stalemate. This should now change. What is certain is that the vocational training will have to be revamped and modernized in order to successfully win over the new generation.
For almost 60% of all restaurateurs, the shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge they face in their daily work and for the future of their business. Although the sector is constantly growing as a result of changing customer behavior and the increasing popularity of eating out, therefore a growing demand for skilled chefs prevails, many apprenticeships remain vacant every year. The trend seems to show continuously declining numbers, especially for small and medium-sized restaurants. This is not only true for Europe, but for parts of Asia and Australia as well. According to the National Restaurant Association, around 37% of chefs in the USA are experiencing the same problem.
Admittedly, it is easy to understand why gastronomy discourages many newcomers. Overtime, working when others are enjoying their free time, often low salaries and hours of cleaning and peeling potatoes sound far from attractive. “Sure, sometimes the kitchen is ruthless,” says Simon, “but that’s not what the chef’s profession is about. With the right mindset, stress is no longer the main focus at work. Instead, it starts to be a lot of fun, especially the sense solidarity and team spirit in the kitchen. This side is what more people need to rediscover now.”
The Guerilla family
Slowly but surely, change is coming to the field. Underground, that is. Simon doesn’t want to stand passively by as the work he loves continues to be misunderstood and frowned upon. At the moment the job profile of a chef lacks sex appeal, no question about it. However, there is also a lack of information and motivation on the part of the gastronomic industry. To get the revolution going, he has therefore joined forces with the Institute of Culinary Art and Gerhard Bruder (president of ICA) to create Guerilla Chefs. This is an open source network of young motivated cooking enthusiasts who want to bring people back into the kitchen. Because cooking is cool! That’s the Guerilla motto. They want to show that, unlike the general impression, the industry offers many perspectives and opportunities for advancement and are also completely transforming the image of the chef – as an artist, freethinker and entertainer.
Be it on YouTube, Instagram or at events and live cooking shows – the network strives to create dynamic and positive experiences around cooking that can be transported back to the establishments. However, it is not enough to simply create better working conditions; instead the profession itself must be re-thought and adapted to the modern market. This can be achieved through shorter, more intensive training models that are directly related to everyday working life, for example. Above all, cooks should also be involved in deeper processes such as recipe development, research and management and not merely be responsible for back-up work and the aforementioned sack of potatoes. Social media is a linchpin for reaching young people. The Guerilla Chefs are a prime example of this: Establishing contacts and organizing events and menus is mainly done through social networks.
A cook with a plan
Here’s the good news: There are already many interested young people, they just need to be better fostered and encouraged. “The most important tool for the future of our profession is education,” Simon writes on his website. In February 2020, the Online Guerilla Academy was kicked off. It provides comprehensive cooking know-how tips and tutorials on a single platform – completely free of charge. Through videos, recipes and user contributions, guerrillas can learn from each other, exchange information and network, no matter if they run a 3-star restaurant or are a hobby cook. A certificate is not a prerequisite for the job, what matters is being sure of your talent. For this reason, the academy wants to give chefs more self-confidence and their own platform again.
The movement is also receiving increasing support from leading companies in the industry. “We also see it as our responsibility to further promote young talent in the field of gastronomy,” says Oliver Frosch, Area Vice President of Rational for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The kitchen appliance manufacturer is now proudly calling itself a “supporting friend” of the Guerilla Chefs. With its professional appliances for the kitchen and many years of industry know-how, Rational wants to support young chefs in their professional careers and, through the launch of products such as ConnectedCooking, also bring them closer to the digital future of gastronomy. This will make it much easier for them to get started in the field.
All these big plans also need a lot of room. In a renovated industrial hall in Mannheim, Simon is already imagining new projects for the Guerilla Chefs: culinary fairs, their own restaurant, a show kitchen – there is no shortage of ideas. What matters is that there’s something to experience. His concept has definitely been well received and has already reached several hundred young cooking enthusiasts within a few months. Being a chef is truly a profession with many different aspects –sometimes exhausting, sometimes light-hearted – but it is always worth fighting for. Like a guerrilla.[ reuse this content ]