The inevitable jokes about Irish cooking aside — “What’s an Irish tasting menu?” “A six-pack of Guinness and a potato” — the fact is that the food scene in Ireland today is vibrant and diverse. In fact, it’s part of what makes Ireland one of the most tourist-friendly countries in the world.
Pubs around the country are upgrading their cuisine, and the Emerald Isle now boasts 16 Michelin-starred restaurants (including two in Northern Ireland). The quality of Ireland’s raw materials is widely celebrated, and even non-Irish magazines are running stories with headlines like “Where to Experience Ireland’s Culinary Renaissance” and “The Great Irish Food Revolution.”
There’s a problem, though: “I’m certain there are no chefs left in the country,” Liam Edwards, proprietor of Jim Edwards of Kinsale in County Cork, told the Irish Times on Monday. He’s obviously exaggerating, but he continues “I’ve rung ten job agencies in the last few weeks: they don’t have them. I’ve advertised locally and nationally: no response.”
According to the Restaurants Association of Ireland, there is currently a shortage of at least 7,000 to 8,000 chefs nationwide. The organization says that the situation is worsening by at least 3,200 chefs a year, while culinary training programs are producing only 1,800 annually.
The RAI is attempting to import a chefs from Italy and Croatia to partially fill the shortfall. Under current employment laws, only “ethnic” restaurants are permitted to hire chefs from outside the EU, and even these numbers are tightly controlled.
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the restaurant group, believes that a government-mandated decrease in the number of chef courses is largely responsible for the current problem.
But Ciarán Ó hAnnracháin, head of the tourism and culinary arts department at Letterkenny Institute of Technology in County Donegal, counters that there is no shortage of training places — there’s a shortage of students willing to take the courses. The issue for many, he says, is simply burnout from long hours and low wages. The situation mirrors that in the U.S., where restaurant cook is one of the lowest paying jobs.