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Will Food Tech Drain Chef Talent from Restaurants?

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Will Food Tech Drain Chef Talent from Restaurants?

With all the stresses that go with working in a fine dining kitchen, long hours, intense pressure and low work-life balance, many restaurants are finding it difficult to find and retain staff. Simultaneously, it seems that food-based platforms are attracting huge funding from VC’s who are looking to find the next ‘restaurant unicorn’.

If you were a young sprite, leaving school, with a burning passion for food and mulling over you’re career options, what would be more attractive to you? 90 -hour weeks in a sweltering kitchen, or a bright, airy start-up in food tech with hammocks and VR breakout rooms?

Wired reports that a new wave of food-focused investment funds like Kitchen Fund and Enlightened Hospitality Investments are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into fast casual startups or as they call them early-stage scalable restaurant concepts”—powered by AI and data-mining apps.

Ever since Sweetgreen raised a whopping $200 million and became the world’s first restaurant unicorn, the VC eye has turned to fast casual, delivery, pretty much anything food-related.

Tech is becoming more and more integrated in what we eat. From future farming and agri-tech, to AI food analysis of trends and recipe creation, supply chain on the blockchain, to genetic optimisation of food for different markets, the future of food is tech and vice versa.

“The next five years will be more disruptive to food service operators than the last 50,” restaurant consultant Aaron Allen told Wired. Food delivery services are booming, especially in developing economies, and the ‘ghost kitchen’ delivery-only restaurant will grow of the back of that.

It stands to reason that chefs’ skillsets, knowledge of ingredients, recipes and supply chains will be more in demand for food tech start-ups. For as much as tech is integral to these companies, the raw product is still food and an upstart techie entrepreneur, can build a platform, the end result has to taste good or the customer will go elsewhere.

Michelin star chef Paul Kitching, of 21212 in Edinburgh, said recently in an interview with Fine Dining Lovers, about his decision to close his restaurant three days a week, that he believes that maybe few as 5% of the chefs he is training will remain in the restaurant industry, the rest pursuing professions in food tech.

That may well put yet more pressure on high end kitchens looking to attract top talent. Unless of course, they can make the position a lot more attractive. However, things are changing and chefs such as René Redzepi are looking to make their kitchens more democratic, collaborative places. Chefs with his talent will always attract young admirers looking for his mentorship, so it seems the chef training model is changing with the times. 

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