Chow Bella

10 Metro Phoenix Chefs on Whether There's a Shortage of Good Cooks — And What They're Doing About It

Last August, the Washington Post ran a story about a national shortage of cooks, pointing to chefs in cities including Chicago, New York, and San Francisco who all confirmed it's harder than ever to hire good kitchen staff. And based on these answers, it seems most metro Phoenix chefs would agree: Talented cooks are in short supply. 

Here's how Valley chefs are dealing with the issue. 

Do you think there's a cook shortage? If yes, how are you handling it?

Rebecca Tillman, executive chef of the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort  

I absolutely think there is a shortage. I moved away from Arizona about 10 years ago when I would go though 50 to 75 applicants for one cook position. Through the years, in the other states I have lived in, the number of qualified cooks decreased significantly. Today, it impacts this industry greatly. Cooking is a selfless, demanding job that is underpaid and under-appreciated. Those of us who have come up in this industry know how hard it is and what it takes.

Cruz Robles, chef of Bevvy

It’s hard to say. I think with all the issues going on with culinary programs around the country there will be a shortage, but I feel in the long term this is a good thing. I feel cooking became trendy a few years back, and now there is a realization by those who wanted to cook that this is not a glamorous job, nor is it a well-paying job at first. I feel the industry needs to get back to the apprentice programs, and all chefs need to take the time to teach. As long as chefs are willing to put in the work to train, there will never be a shortage.

Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals 

Absolutely. It’s challenging. I am trying to hunker down with the crew I have and to take care of them. While there seems to be a shortage, there isn’t a shortage of people who think they chefs and are entitled to be paid beyond their experience and their commitment. 

Garrison Whiting, executive chef of Counter Intuitive and sous chef of Cowboy Ciao

I have noticed the steady decline in back-of-house applications we’ve been receiving over the past couple years. I handle the problem by not relying on cooks in my small operation [at Counter Intuitive]. I do all the prep and cooking myself. In the flagship restaurant, [Cowboy Ciao], we have been able to get by with a few strong cooks and dedicated chefs picking up slack wherever it may present itself. Maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. Fewer applicants means more hours for the people who really need them and bolsters the level of dedication and sense of ownership in the kitchen. The work can be grueling, though. There are definitely some sore backs and tired feet out there as I’m typing this.

Pauline Martinez, co-owner of Perk Eatery

Yes, yes, and yes. The only way to handle it is to pay well enough to retain good help when you find them. The biggest problem is that all these culinary school grads don't really understand how different the real world restaurant kitchens are from the classrooms they have become accustomed to. People just don't want to work anymore — there's too much entitlement in the air and that goes up in smoke really quick in a real kitchen. 

Josh Garcia, vice president of Miracle Mile Deli

[There's] not necessarily a cook shortage, just [a shortage of] people who want to work hard. It's really tough to find these days because so many people think that they are entitled to stuff for just showing up. It doesn't work that way and never will. You have to prove yourself day in and day out. Work your butt off and then let's talk about what you have earned . . . not what you deserve for walking through the front door — or the back door in some cases. 
Rick Phillips, owner/menu development of Bootlegger's

There definitely is a shortage of “real cooks” or people who want to develop and evolve. High labor costs often leave owners and operators looking for bodies and not dedicated, passionate cooks.

Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef of Barrio Cafe

There is a cook shortage. Everyone wants to be a chef, not a line cook. I have never really hired from the same pool as other restaurants. I usually hire folks with very little experience but have natural talent, and I invest the time and effort to train them.

Gio Osso, chef of Virtu 

Absolutely [there is ]a shortage of quality cooks. You can find the occasional impostor cook who says they can cook and have experience, but when you put them in the kitchen, it's a lost cause. No matter how much training you're willing to give them, they just don't get it. They look the part, act the part, have the cool-guy knife bag, as well as the big knife tattoo on their arm — but they couldn't cook in an Easy-Bake Oven. It's frustrating as heck to find someone willing to do the work we've all been doing for years. It's more of a waste of time. I have had interviews set up where the prospect doesn't even show up and then calls three days later seeing if we still have a position open. Seriously? It's a very long tedious vetting process to find the right people.

Rick Dupere, executive chef of Kitchen West Restaurant at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch

Yes, I do acknowledge there’s a cook shortage, but I try to mitigate the issue by treating everyone fairly and with respect and by taking care of the people who take care of my kitchen. I also avoid hiring people who might bring down my team just to fill an empty position.

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Teresa is a writer, editor, traveler, and food enthusiast. She loves chocolate, espresso, and Chihuahuas.
Contact: Teresa Traverse