Help wanted: calling all cooks

Help wanted: calling all cooks

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - From fine dining to fast food, restaurants statewide have a growing need in the kitchen for cooks.

"About a year ago when I put an add on Craigslist for example, I would get 30 to 50 applicants. I now I put an add in there I will get maybe 2 or 3," chef Chai Chaowasaree said.

For some eateries the shortage is severe.

"You'll find owners or chefs having to jump on the line today because of the fact they're so short of staff," Culinary Institute of the Pacific's Conrad Nonaka said.

A beginning cook earns $11 to $14 an hour. Young workers are choosing better paying construction or hotel jobs. Plus, Hawaii's 3,500 restaurants need an average of 10 to 12 people in the kitchen. There aren't enough cook candidates to fill the openings.

"The whole aspect of the availability of staffing in comparison to the successful increase of rates of restaurants, I think that plays a major role too," Nonaka said.

Gregg Fraser of the Hawaii Restaurant Association said the shortage could force restaurants to pay cooks more. That could eventually affect customers.

"We may see menu prices going up so we can get qualified or more cooks in our kitchen," he said.

Chaowasaree said a turnaround will come when other industries slow down.

"A restaurant job is something that is the easiest and fastest way you can get in. You don't need the knowledge. You don't need to have experience, as long as you are willing to learn, willing to work hard, you go to the restaurant.  They'll train you.  They'll teach you," he said.

The University of Hawaii's culinary programs will enroll about 700 students this year.  The question is how many will actually go from classroom to kitchen.

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