Life as a chef during a global pandemic
Updated: Jul 29
Let me introduce myself, my name is Pierre (you cannot have a more French name than this!). I was born in the hospitality industry and have been a chef for the past 20 years (or so..).
My career started in France as an apprentice in a 3 Michelin star restaurant. In my early twenties I decided to leave the family business (a hotel restaurant) and move to the United Kingdom to pursue my career. For the past 15 years I've worked in London, in Michelin Star restaurants as well as contract catering.
At the end of last year, I decided to leave my job (Executive Head Chef in the City) to fulfill a lifelong dream of road tripping for two months in the USA, with my my wife and our dog. During our trip, we met a lot of amazing people, and sampled many local delicacies (Nashville hot chicken sandwich anyone?).
I've been asked a lot about my decision to leave my current job, and been told that I was brave to do so, to which I would always reply: "there's no need to worry, there are so many chef jobs available, people need to eat, there's always more demand than supply."
And here I am, in July 2020, still looking for a job in the food industry.
I've been actively looking since returning to London in February 2020. I had a few interviews and whilst searching worked as a relief chef on zero hours contract for several agencies.
And then, Covid-19 happened...
Most of my colleagues were furloughed, but I wasn't as not meeting the criteria (I fell through the cracks since I wasn't on the payroll on time at my last relief chef job).
Then the jobs interviews I was waiting to hear from started getting postponed, then cancelled. Some haven't but are yet to be rescheduled.
My first reaction, as we didn't know how long it would last, was to wait at home until "things get back to normal". I spent my first month at home watching TV shows, while still keeping an eye on jobs being advertised.
To give you an idea, on one of the main catering job sites, there was an average of 6000 chefs jobs advertised prior to the pandemic. In March 2020 there were 50, half of them being from agencies collecting CVs to be ready for when things would go back to....."normal".
As of today there are 220 jobs advertised.
After spending the whole month of March waiting for lockdown to be over, I was given a reality check. My wife made me realize that I couldn't just wait for things to get better and needed to find ways to get some money in the bank, as our savings were almost gone following the US trip, and I did not want to sell my retro gaming collection!
I then started to look for work for the NHS, as they needed a lot of extra help, but they had already enough applications, which is great! Fruit picking in farms was another option I looked into, but again was too late.
My wife (what would I do without her!) then suggested I look at supermarkets jobs.
On of the main UK chains was looking for online shoppers locally, as the number of online grocery orders has doubled in volume, so I applied.
Following a job interview made awkward by social distancing rules (How are you supposed to make a confident first impression when you can't shake your interviewer's hand?), this has been my job now for the past 2 months. I work very early morning shifts, in the alleys of the supermarket, getting the online orders ready for the drivers to pick up and deliver later that day.
Whilst far away from what I usually do, I'm really thankful for the job at the moment, as it means I'm able to pay bills, help others (do I qualify as a key worker?), and have a routine again. Working at night also gives me the daytime to continue to look for jobs in the catering industry and go to the very few interviews I can get. It's also given me a head start on colleagues who were comforted in their furlough status, thinking they had a job to come back to...
As of early July, restaurants and hotels can reopen. Many sadly didn't or couldn't, which threw a lot of hospitality workers on the market for a job. In addition to this, after being instructed to work from the safety of home for months (and getting used to it), most office workers are now expected to not return to their offices for a while, resulting in a lot of redundancies in the contract catering sector I left before it all started (since there is no one in those offices to cater for, and no business travel at the moment) and barely any opportunities.
Now, are things really going back to normal for us chefs, or will we need to adapt and find new ways to use our skills? It's a good thing we're coming from a fast paced industry, so we should be able to bounce back!