Britain Is Running Out of Indian Chefs

Due to restrictive immigration laws and the retirement of first-generation workers, Britain is facing a South Asian chef shortage that could see a third of its curry houses close.

Aug 24 2015, 12:23pm

Photo via Flickr user 46137

The term "British cuisine" may technically encompass toad in the hole, beef pies, and Yorkshire puddings but you've probably had just as many actually-living-in-this-country-isn't-so-bad moments over a really good chicken jalfrezi or plate of onion bhajis.

However bastardised their curry house manifestations may be, Britain loves Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi food. Glasgow says it invented chicken tikka masala, there are entire neighbourhoods in Manchester and Birmingham dedicated to the cuisines (don't ask who does it better), and uproar broke out in April when Salisbury City Council accused curry of not being "English enough" for a St. George's Day celebration. Rice-'n'-three has as much of a place on the British table as meat-'n'-three-veg.

So, it will send a chill down the spines of many Britons to hear that the country could be running out of the very people with the skills to stuff our samosas and knead our peshwari naans.

READ MORE: There's a Scientific Reason Why Indian Food Is So Delicious

As The Independent reports, Britain's South Asian restaurant owners are warning of a chef shortage that could lead to the closure of hundreds of curry houses. In a submission being prepared to be sent to the Prime Minister and other cabinet members, Enam Ali, founder of the British Curry Awards and owner of Le Raj restaurant in Surrey, warns that 90 percent of the country's curry restaurants are "under the threat of a chef skills shortage."

Ali states that it can take up to three years to train chefs in the cuisine and that "hundreds" of establishments could close if no solution is found. He added that as Indian chefs retire, many second- and third-generation immigrants would rather take higher paying professional roles than follow their older relatives into the restaurant business.

Along with a number of other restaurant owners, Ali is calling on David Cameron to introduce short-term work visas that would allow experienced South Asian chefs to be employed by UK establishments. Under current British immigration rules on skilled workers from outside the EU, chefs must earn at least £5,000 more than the standard pay for similar posts and cannot work in takeaways.

In his submission, Ali suggests that the government consider introducing "short-term visas, similar to Germany, [the] US and the Middle East, where they have to leave the country after their term" and notes that "historically [...] immigration is a political exercise for any party who wants to use it to gain a political advantage, but sadly it is the curry industry that is paying the price for it."

Speaking at the British Curry Awards in 2013, Cameron admitted that there had been questions over sourcing chefs with necessary experience but told attendees that he would "continue to help you get the skilled Asian chefs you need." However a government spokesperson yesterday told The Daily Mail that the government supported nurturing to domestic cheffing talent by "offering training to attract and recruit resident workers to meet their staffing needs."

According to sales data from Cobra, the beer sold in many of the UK's Indian restaurants, at least two curry houses close every week due to chef shortages. The Bangladesh Caterers Association also warns that up to a third of restaurants are facing closure for the same reason.

READ MORE: This Is Why You Should Stop Drinking Beer with Indian Food

Speaking to The Independent, Shabir Mughal of the Spicy Mint restaurants in Manchester's "Curry Mile" district said: "It's a full-blown crisis. Indian and Pakistani restaurants across the country are in the same situation. The visa criteria make it impossible to bring in the right people. Take poppadoms. People take them for granted, but there is a technique that has to be learned. Every recipe is different and involves special skills."

With the UK's South Asian restaurants employing 100,000 people and earning £4.2 billion a year, those could be some skills worth investing in.