#FairKitchens: changing kitchen culture for the better

by Great British Chefs 5 October 2022

The #FairKitchens movement is on a mission to eradicate the unhealthy culture often associated with professional kitchens, and is now offering a leadership training programme, teaching chefs how to build a positive environment for their team. We find out more about the initiative from #FairKitchens chef ambassador Alex Hall.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Fifteen-hour shifts, high levels of stress and anxiety, verbal and even physical abuse – these, sadly, are things which far too many chefs have experienced at some point in their career. The unhealthy culture surrounding kitchens is something which has been on people’s radars for many years but the #FairKitchens movement is now finally doing something about it. Set up in 2018 by Unilever Food Solutions and a group of chefs determined on making the industry fairer and less toxic, #FairKitchens believes that a kitchen can only truly thrive if it has a solid, happy team at its heart. That’s why, since launching, the founders of the movement have been on a mission to open up the conversation around kitchen culture, recognising the issues and trying to offer solutions.

The most recent of these solutions is #FairKitchens’ brand-new, free leadership training programme, ‘Leading a Fair Kitchen’, which has been developed to help provide support and tips to those at the helm of a kitchen so that they can create the best working environment possible for their staff. ‘We realised that if we wanted the culture to change, it had to start at the top,’ explains #FairKitchens chef ambassador Alex Hall, who helped develop the programme, ‘when I look at my own training, I was promoted up through the ranks but was never taught to lead and that’s a really common theme in the industry. People teach themselves how to cope with certain scenarios but very little actual support is given back of house in terms of training and development. Change needs to happen from the top but for that to happen chefs need to know how to be good leaders. That’s where the idea for the leadership training programme was born.’

Developed in collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America, along with over thirty chefs from around the world, the programme is offered for free online and is comprised of seven different modules, each of which coaches head chefs through different elements of leadership. Modules consist of short videos featuring top chefs including Ruth Hansom and Chris Galvin, with suggested tasks to complete at the end and the chance to earn an official certificate of completion after a final assessment. At its core, #FairKitchens’ leadership training programme is about giving chefs a chance to learn everything from how to spot wellbeing issues, to how to share your values with a team, instead of them simply mirroring the practices of their own past-head chefs.

In the midst of a national staffing crisis, #FairKitchens also believe that good leadership is one of the keys to retaining staff, making the timing of the programme’s launch particularly apt. ‘Attracting people to the industry is one thing,’ says Alex, ‘but retaining them is essential. The cost of recruiting staff at the moment is a small fortune, so we need to think about what it takes to keep staff, how do we keep them engaged, and how do we inspire them? Part of it is also recognising that not everyone necessarily wants to be a Michelin starred chef, there are lots of different directions that chefs should be encouraged to go in. All these elements are key to keeping talent, and if we don’t change at the top, we’ll never be able to do it.’

The #FairKitchens leadership programme isn’t a definitive guide to running a kitchen, but it’s not aiming to be. It’s about starting a conversation about leadership and giving chefs ideas about how to build an environment in their kitchen that works for them and their staff. Equally, the programme isn’t claiming that every professional kitchen or chef needs a total rethink, ‘it’s not like everything is horrendous in the industry,’ adds Alex, ‘there’s a lot to be excited and proud of, and plenty of things that we’re doing well. It might just be that someone is saying something which comes from a very positive place for example, but just isn’t saying it in the right way, in which case they just need to become aware of that and try to improve.’

At this critical time for our industry, it’s more important than ever for restaurants and chefs to be proactive both in terms of attracting new people but also making their working environments as appealing as possible. #FairKitchens are doing their bit by offering their free, easy-to-access leadership training programme; it’s now just a case of executive chefs around the UK recognising this need for change, and taking the time to undertake the course, be willing improve, and spread the word.

Sign up here for the #FairKitchens leadership training programme