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Brexit’s impact on UK’s hospitality industry ‘huge’ as European workforce denied chances, says top Northern Ireland chef Clare Smyth

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Co Antrim chef Clare Smyth

Co Antrim chef Clare Smyth

Clare Smyth at her Notting Hill restaurant, Core.

Clare Smyth at her Notting Hill restaurant, Core.

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Co Antrim chef Clare Smyth

Northern Ireland’s highest-honoured chef has described the impact of Brexit on the UK’s European hospitality workforce as ‘huge’.

Co Antrim’s Clare Smyth, chef patron of three Michelin-starred Core restaurant in Notting Hill, said it was a ‘real challenge and a shame’ that many workers from countries like France and Switzerland were now being denied the opportunities she had enjoyed when she worked abroad as a young chef.

She said that having three Michelin stars meant she was lucky enough to be able to retain and attract staff but that overall, the industry was missing out because of the high cost of visas and sponsorship.

Smyth, the first British female chef to win three Michelin stars, told the Business Post: “We’re at the luckier end in that we’re a three Michelin star restaurant so we have people who still want to work for us.

“But Brexit has been huge. The whole industry is missing the European workforce.

“At the higher end of hospitality, there were lots of people who came from France and Switzerland, but that’s just not possible now, because the cost of visas and sponsorship is through the roof and many restaurants just can’t pay that.

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“It’s a real challenge and a shame that the freedom and opportunities I enjoyed to work abroad are now blocked to these people.”

Smyth said she was sponsoring three staff members and was planning to sponsor another. But she pointed out that there were ‘really huge’ costs attached to that and not everybody was in a position to do it.

The Bushmills woman, who is one of only seven three Michelin-starred chefs in the UK, worked as chef patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London and opened her restaurant Core in August 2017. It was awarded two stars in the Michelin Guide straight away, picking up a third in 2021.

Last year also saw Smyth, who moved to England at the age of 16 to learn her craft, open a new restaurant, Oncore, in Sydney. Australia doesn’t have a Michelin Guide but its equivalent, the Chef Hat Award, gave Oncore a score of 19 out of 20 shortly after it opened.

Smyth’s London restaurant has received numerous awards in addition to the three Michelin stars. It scored 10 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide, won five AA rosettes and Best Restaurant at the GQ Food and Drink Awards.

Smyth was also named the World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a title which proved contentious. Some other female chefs felt the title was both sexist and redundant and Smyth considered not accepting it. But in the end, she felt that it would give her a platform to speak out.

“To be honest, it was something that I didn’t really want. I was very much on the cusp of not wanting to accept it because I didn’t want to be singled out,” she said.

“But someone said to me, ‘if you don’t accept it then how will you ever tell people your story or why you think this is right or wrong? You won’t have a voice if you don’t accept it.’ I thought that was a really good point.

“Through talking about it, I found there was no right or wrong really. Some people think it’s great and some don’t; there are a lot of grey areas.

“Some women weren’t too happy I had accepted the award, they looked up to me and didn’t agree with the award, but really, the most important thing is having a voice and that’s why I accepted it.”


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