West Michigan restaurants experiencing chef shortage

Posted at 9:16 PM, Aug 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-13 21:16:58-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It’s a sign of economic times, but in a good way.  New restaurants opening their doors means demand for qualified chefs is heating up, creating more competitive wages for cooks, even those just getting started.

Chris Perkey opened Osteria Rossa in downtown Grand Rapids a little more than a year ago. "We need more and more cooks coming through. It's kind of a national," he said. "There is a national epidemic of lack of cooks."

Perkey's restaurant is just one of several popping up around town in recent years, in an area of Grand Rapids more and more people are moving to. "Over the past 17 years, downtown has changed so much. It's become a neighborhood," said Perkey.

"It's been a whirlwind. It really has been awesome. The reception we've gotten has been great. We are busy pretty much every night."

The increased number of establishments pumping out the gourmet eats means an increased demand for qualified chefs. The shortage of chefs is increasing the pay for a career historically known for its low wages.

"It used to be that you'd run an ad, and you'd get 40 applications, and you can sit and pick. Nowadays you get four or five," said Perkey.

Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education said that there are more employers contacting them than there are graduating students. The school also said that wages are rapidly increasing as restaurants seek more talented cooks.

"The opportunities are wide open," said Perkey. "I think that as a young cook coming out of culinary school, I think you are smart to stay here, because there are some really talented chefs in this town."

Perkey, who is originally from Chicago, said that Grand Rapids is a great place for young chefs to start out, not only because the quality of area restaurants but because of the the low cost of living.

"The cost of living is definitely lower than Chicago, and the other side of that is you don't necessarily get paid more going to Chicago. They have a larger talent pool to draw from," said Perkey.

Grand Rapids is in the middle of Restaurant Week. Some of the proceeds from the event go towards a culinary scholarship at GRCC.