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Why German chefs are awarded more Michelin stars than British chefs

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Restaurants in Germany are awarded significantly more Michelin stars than those in Britain due to a greater emphasis on industry training and apprenticeship, a new LSE and University of Cambridge study suggests.

The research, which is directly relevant to other small creative-lead businesses such as technology start-ups and designers, but could also be widened to innovation in bigger companies, found that British chefs have a significantly harder task building a coherent staff essential for the consistently high quality implementation of their creative ideas.

Despite many similarities between Britain and Germany, the number of Michelin stars awarded in Britain in 2013 was 162, compared to 255 in Germany. The rate at which restaurants had lost stars or closed between 2002 and 2009 (the beginning of the study) was almost twice as higher in Britain compared to Germany.

Based on interviews with 40 Michelin-starred head chefs in Britain and Germany, Professor Christel Lane of Cambridge University and Dr Daniela Lup of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) aimed to explore what lies behind this gap.

The researchers explain: “Because the Michelin inspectors put equal emphasis on creative style and perfect execution of dishes it is  impossible to adjudicate who is most critical for the organisation: the head-chefs or their brigade.” It is this management of the tension between creativity and implementation that they chose to scrutinise.

Michelin uses trained inspectors whose main criteria for awarding stars are originality together with consistently high quality of dishes prepared, which leads to the award of one, two or three stars.

Most chefs interviewed strongly emphasised their personal creative-artistic identity. However, the researchers found, that in the kitchen, the head-chef is “not an artist any more, but becomes part of an organised group whose only goal is the production of perfect dishes and service.” Discussing the military discipline required for this, some of them admitted to “an authoritarian style” and confessed that they “shout, swear or even engage in some low-level violence”.

Many chefs complained that their work environments were very stressful, saying it was difficult to remain creative. One British one-star chef commented: “It’s like labouring – you just burn yourself out. You get to the point where the ideas aren’t coming. It’s like writer’s block, and sometimes I think ‘pack it in now, the story’s over.’”

Nearly all the chefs said they find creativity and inspiration away from their restaurants, not from their staff. Creativity from the staff was actively discouraged by many chefs, with a British one-star chef saying ‘I don’t want any under me to be creative.’, and another confessing to having ‘reined back’ a sous-chef who tried to assert his own innovative ideas. The emphasis, instead, was on consistently high performance with the head chef checking every plate that goes out. Cohesive teams are essential, with several chefs saying that they explicitly rejected junior chefs with “big egos”.

Despite similarities in recruiting criteria between Germany and Britain, the researchers found significant differences in the type of employees working in kitchen ‘brigades’ resulting in more difficulties for British chefs to build coherent teams.

As noted in the paper: “Employees in Germany are predominantly German-born or from German speaking neighbouring countries. In contrast, those in Britain are of highly diverse national origins, with about 60 per cent being non-British. Diversity has adverse consequences in terms of a reduced ease of communication and a lesser degree of social cohesion which, in turn, increases labour turnover rates” which many British chefs lamented.

In Germany, however, chefs say labour turnover is less of a problem because most staff work at their restaurants for long periods.

A second difference is the level of training and skill. Of the 20 British head-chefs interviewed, six were self-taught, whereas the Germans all had the basic apprenticeship qualification and 30 per cent, a Master craftsman qualification. The same differences occurred in the brigade staff. German head-chefs emphasised that they “valued a solid CV that showed training and apprenticeship with a renowned chef” whereas “British head-chefs placed a high emphasis on more subjective criteria, such as the quality of the person,” rather than formal training. While it is possible for the head-chef to train new employees to the required standards, “such a task becomes impossible with a high turnover.”

The researchers note that in Germany there is more of a tradition of craft with its emphasis on training and apprenticeships with a national, legally binding curriculum, whereas in Britain fewer people are formally trained as chefs, the training is done in colleges and is variable in quality.

They also note that Luc Naret, the former chief executive of Michelin Publishing, recently commented that “the best chefs in Germany cook today in the way Germans build cars: on an absolutely perfect level.”

They conclude: “Our study suggests that businesses that have been successful in countries like Germany should not assume the same smooth implementation of creative ideas when moving to countries like Britain, with a less clear and systematic organisation of skill.”

Notes

Cooking under Fire: Managing Multilevel Tensions between Creativity and Innovation in Haute Cuisine is published in the journal Industry and Innovation.

For a copy of the paper, or to interview Dr Lup, please contact Joanna Bale, LSE Press Office, j.m.bale@lse.ac.uk or 07831 609679.

Daniela Lup is Assistant Professor in Employment Relations and Organisational Behaviour in the Department of Management at LSE.

Christel Lane is Emeritus Professor of Economic Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

20 April 2016

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