He gives the example of a 5-star hotel which was supplied with a full team of chefs recently.
“They had no chefs in the hotel at all,” he said.
“They couldn’t operate without Phone A Chef being there or the hotel would have had to close.”
The pandemic had a profound impact on hospitality, with lockdowns creating uncertainty for workers who opted for more secure employment in other industries.
However, hospitality employers are calling for the revival of the Council of Education, Recruitment and Training (CERT), saying not enough budding chefs are being trained up.
Mr O’Keeffe said: “There has been very little training of commis chefs or trainee chefs in the past 20 years. There’s nobody coming through.”
Irish Hotel Federation Chief Executive Tim Fenn acknowledged that recruitment remains an ongoing challenge, and this includes a shortage of chefs.
“Hotels across the country are continuing to actively recruit chefs and where any shortfalls exist, we are confident that these will be met by new or returning team members, as well as through further training and upskilling, including earn and learn options such as the Commis Chef Apprenticeship Programme,” Mr Fenn said.
“Where it is necessary in the short-term, however, overseas recruitment remains a challenge – part of the difficulty is the backlog in issuing permits for skilled employees which needs to be streamlined urgently.”
Mr O’Keeffe said: “You’d have the executive chef and the head chef on high salaries and then you’ll have junior chefs on €25,000 to €30,000 a year. It’s not a lot of money when you are working in Dublin.
“What can be done? I think the hotels need to reintroduce commis chefs. I think these commis chefs need to be treated fairly.
“I think they need to be taught by professional chefs. I think the kids that come into the industry, they need to be nurtured. If you put a new chef into a kitchen where they are already down five chefs, that kid is not going to learn the proper way, he is going to learn the quick way, and that’s what’s relayed in five years’ time when he’s teaching someone else.”