We’ve all heard the common phrase, “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Maybe you’ve said it. Maybe you've (unfortunately) been on the receiving end of it, because, well, you were the problem. Either way, it’s a common adage. But what happens when our entire world is turned upside down, and the problems becomes not too many, but too few cooks in the kitchen?
If you’re paying attention to the local restaurant scene here in MSP -- beyond the donut shops and dive bars, that is -- it appears we’re in the midst of a severe labor shortage, causing a rise in kitchen positions around the area. Despite a lot of media coverage supporting this notion, there’s actually some fairly mixed perceptions within the Twin Cities' chef community.
We reached out to over 25 professional chefs and restaurateurs to get their thoughts on what's going on in the MSP food industry. Though responses varied, several similarities shot to the surface about what is happening in our kitchens, and most agree an endgame is still up in the air.
So, is there really a shortage?
Well, it depends who you ask. According to Birchwood Cafe chef Marshall Paulsen -- who served as Woody Harrelson's personal chef while Harrelson was in town over the summer shooting Wilson -- there's no cook shortage at all.
“For Birchwood, although hiring and staffing is not always the easiest of responsibilities for us, this is not currently our biggest challenge," he says. "Not everyone will stay somewhere forever; it would be foolish to have that expectation. I don't feel there is a cook shortage. We have really great people cooking at Birchwood.”
Chefs Lenny Russo and Doug Flicker, of St. Paul’s Heartland Restaurant and Minneapolis’ Piccolo, respectively, echo that sentiment, but offer a few slight caveats. To Russo, there may be plenty of bodies, but not enough skilled labor to help carry the load of new restaurants that just won't stop opening. At Heartland, Russo says, cooks that aren't highly skilled are hired at the get-go, then trained.
Flicker, who also co-owns Sandcastle on Lake Nokomis, claims he’s never had trouble finding cooks for Piccolo, and has never even had to take out a help wanted ad when looking for new cooks. Of course, that could have something to do with the high-profile nature of his flagship restaurant. But as for Sandcastle, that's "a totally different beast," as he puts it, due to the quick service, seasonality, and the fact that "cooking at a beach shack" is apparently not that appealing to everyone looking to work in a kitchen.
"Last year was an incredibly difficult year for staffing cooks at Sandcastle," he tells us. "I don’t think we were ever fully staffed.”