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Off The Menu: Shortage of line cooks persists

Long before the pandemic turned the labor market upside down, the restaurant industry was already dealing with a persistent staffing problem — a chronic shortage of line cooks.

The journeymen (and women) of the culinary profession, line cooks are those individuals who actually prepare and plate most items on a restaurant’s menu. Their job title reflects the fact that they “work the line,” that collection of cooking equipment and work stations that serve as a commercial kitchen’s assembly line. “Line cook” is a middle skills position in the kitchen; the job is a notch above “prep cook,” but doesn’t carry any of the status of “chef.”

In a large kitchen a line cook might be a bit of a specialist, working just the saute station or the broiler. In a smaller operation he or she most likely will do it all, striving to consistently translate a chef or owner’s menu vision into the dining experience intended.

Successful line cooks need good organizational skills, a knowledge of sanitation, and the ability to perform in an intense, high-energy work environment. They need to be able to learn quickly and work as a team with others.

Unfortunately, line cooks traditionally have not been paid very well; pre-pandemic the typical hourly rate might have been anywhere between $12 and $15. Factor in the evening and weekend hours, the on-your-feet nature of the work, and a generous measure of physical discomfort, and it’s not hard to understand how it has been a challenge to attract and retain good line cooks.

As part of its mission to support the region’s hospitality industry, the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Holyoke is offering a “Line Cook Certification” short course.

The program is designed for those already in the restaurant industry who want to upgrade their skills as well as unemployed/underemployed individuals interested in starting a new career in restaurant cookery. Taught in two parts – one online and the rest in-kitchen at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute – the program focuses on the essential competencies a successful line cook needs.

These include culinary knife skills, the basics of measurements and culinary math, and certification in food safety practices. Program participants also get extensive hands-on training in a range of food preparation and production techniques.

Offered as part of Holyoke Community College’s Workforce Development effort, the Line Cook Certification course is free to qualifying applicants. The next certification program begins on October 5.

For more information call (413) 552-2500 or email [email protected]

Celebrating two years in business, HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar in Northampton will be holding a “2 Year Anniversary Party” on Oct. 1.

The restaurant will be serving $10 pizzas all evening (dine in only) and will be offering beer, wine, and cocktail specials to mark the occasion.

The celebration starts at 4:30 p.m., with the Beau Sasser Trio performing after 10 p.m. that evening.

For more information about HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar, go to their social media feed at facebook.com/highbrowrestaurant.

The Munich Haus German Restaurant in Chicopee will be once again holding a series of Oktoberfest celebrations over two weekends in October.

Each Oktoberfest will feature an all-you-care-to-eat buffet of traditional specialties – pretzel-crusted chicken, sauerbraten, meatballs, sausages, and various schnitzels – accompanied by an assortment of side dishes that will include spatzle, sauerkraut, red cabbage and more.

The food finale is to be a Vienna-style dessert station.

Live music will be a part of each Oktoberfest evening. On Friday, October 15, the Bavarian Brothers will entertain from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., while on Saturday guests will enjoy the traditional oom-pah sounds of the Vagabonds.

Doors open both evenings at 6 p.m.; tickets are $35, tax and gratuity not included.

Reservations can be made by calling the Munich Haus at (413) 594-8788. Tickets can also be ordered on line at munichhaus.com.

The Shortstop Bar & Grill in Westfield has been celebrating this year’s return of the Big E with a “Fair Food” menu of specials.

Entrees being offered as part of this “Little E” tribute menu include a Glazed Donut Burger, a Sausage Sub with peppers and onions, a Foot Long Chili Cheese Hot Dog, and Big Baked Stuffed Potatoes finished with a variety of topping combinations.

The dessert keyword is “deep fried” with choices like Fried OREOS, Fried Cookie Dough, and Fried Dough on offer.

The Shortstop Bar & Grill answers at (413) 642-6370; their web address is shortstopbarandgrill.com.

The Student Prince Cafe and Fort Restaurant in Springfield will also be maintaining its Oktoberfest traditions by celebrating the return of the “Mighty Oktoberfest” on October 8.

The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. with the Berkshire Mountain Wanderers providing the event’s in-person soundtrack. The ceremonial tapping of the keg will take place shortly thereafter.

During October the restaurant will be augmenting its regular menu with seasonal German specialties, and live entertainment will be provided each weekend evening.

Tickets for the Oct. 8 “kickoff” event are $20 ($25 after October 1). For more information go to studentprince.com or call (413) 734-7475.

With the late summer closing of Coco and The Cellar Bar in Easthampton, Western Massachusetts lost one of its most noteworthy restaurant experiences. The closure also meant a loss of employment and community for a small but dedicated staff.

As a way of bridging the financial gap the establishment’s shutdown created, friends of Coco have put together a GoFundMe appeal, the proceeds of which are being distributed equitably to former employees. Originally set to have a fundraising goal of $7,500, the appeal has considerably exceeded that amount, a testimony to the loyalty of former customers and a tribute to the regard in which the now-defunct restaurant was held.

The link to the Coco GoFundMe appeal is gofundme.com/f/help-the-coco-staff.

Having had to cancel its hallmark national trade show in both 2020 and 2021, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) has the planning for its NRA Show 2022 already well underway. The 2022 edition of the show, the Association claims, “will be the comeback event the industry deserves.”

Scheduled for May 21 through May 24, 2022 in its traditional venue, the McCormick Place Exhibition Center in Chicago, the NRA Show 2022 is already accepting attendee registrations, with an early bird signup fee of $75 available through November 21.

Information about the NRA Show 2022, including links for online registration, can be found at nationalrestaurantshow.com.

Champney’s Restaurant at the Deerfield Inn in Deerfield , in conjunction with West County Cider in Colraine, will be hosting an Adult Cider and Food Pairing with Live Music on Oct. 1. The evening runs from 6 to 9 p.m. and will include a four-course menu with each segment thereof accompanied by “tastes” of two adult ciders.

Components of the food line-up are cider butternut bisque, scallops with apple slaw, merquez sausage with warm greens, and cider-braised pork shank. Apple bread pudding will be served as dessert.

The cost to attend is $75 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Local favorite John Corbett will be responsible for the musical portion of the evening.

Reservations can be made by calling the Deerfield Inn at (413) 774-5587.

Kids’ menus at restaurants are changing, according to trend data gathered by Technomic, a consumer behavior consultancy that specializes in the food service industry.

According to their most recent menu research, kid-friendly classics such as chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and grilled cheese sandwiches are not appearing as often as they once did on kids’ menus. Instead, such options are being replaced with the likes of more “grown-up” food like grilled salmon and five-cheese tortellini.

Millennials, who are now moving into their child-raising years, appear to be driving this change. Having exposed their offspring to “healthy eating” and more sophisticated flavors at home, Millennials are creating an audience for kids’ fare in restaurants that reflects contemporary family dinner experiences.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 45 years of restaurant and educational experience. Robert can be reached on-line at [email protected].

https://www.masslive.com/dining/2021/09/off-the-menu-shortage-of-line-cooks-persists.html