If you’ve ever wondered just how someone manages to start a national movement from scratch, then here you are, our entire story, warts and all?
We really kicked off in about 2013, just a few chefs who had been saying for many years that we needed a “Union” for chefs as all of the big Unions were simply not interested in us as a profession and that small kitchens in the middle of nowhere just couldn’t get any sort of representation.
Many of us then were senior, experienced chefs who knew of the injustices and had grown up in a system of abuse but like most chefs took it as just “part of being a chef”.
However, I was different. Over my career, I had worked with many top American Companies whose ethos was one of strong employee value, support, and a sense of team spirit. After being a boss for so long I began to realise that in fact, I was just a small part of a much more important team and that I needed to be a leader.
I was ( and still am ) a very lucky and successful chef, but I realised at an early stage that my success was built on the way that my teams had responded to measures that I had put in place to ensure their pay, contracts, support, well being and work-life balance were all as they wanted them to be.
When Unichef first became popular as a Facebook page in 2015, we took that ethos and put it as our founding principles. Those 5 Core Principals still stand today and were enshrined in our Constitution when in 2018 Unichef, The National Chefs Union officially became a legal organisation in its own right.
I had previously been the sole owner of Unichef but wanted to give something back to the profession and so I gave Unichef to the chefs of Britain so that they could have a true and democratic voice for their profession for all time. Through the years we have crossed many bridges and brought awareness of almost every issue you can imagine to the kitchens of the UK.
Chefs now are very aware of issues such as Mental Health, bullying, sexual harassment, substance abuse. homophobia, racism and much more, and throughout it all we have never wavered or changed our stance from those very early days.
It’s this constant belief in our community that sets us apart from everyone else, our constant ethos of equality, support and fairness for ALL chefs that makes Unichef so very special and unique.
In the beginning, I was told it couldn’t be done, that we couldn’t start a Union without adhering to the present rules that governed Industry. Deep down I knew that we would have to have something new, something completely different. A Union that encompassed employers and well as employees, a Union that cared about the profession more than politics.
I had come from the Era of Nouvelle Cuisine. We had no rules, we had no computers or internet, we made changes as we went along. Chefs had completely reinvented the way we cooked and were now forming the future, a future that respected the past but had developed a new belief, and so I did this with Unichef.
Unichef is a development of that Nouvelle Cuisine. Unichef doesn’t stick by the rules, we make them! In almost everything that we have done, we have had to seek change in present formats and regulations.
Even our very existence needed recognition and change in the way Community Interest Companies we formed. Unichef was the first Community Union EVER in the UK and we needed to pass a “fitness test” set by the Government to get approval.
Top Companies such as Barclays, Paypal, Stripe and Perkbox have all changed their systems and Algorithms to incorporate all that we do, and it took almost 3 years of constant letter writing and lobbying for The Food Standards Agency and MIND to accept us as a Professional Body.
So today, we stand strong and very proud. We have our own Lawyers, Accountants, Directors and a very loyal and strong team of advisers and professionals to advise and support the work we do, not forgetting our Chef Patrons, Paul Askew and Alan Coxon, who value and inspire the ethos of Unichef.
So there you have it? So much has gone into Unichef, and there is still so much more to do. We will not stop until all chefs are recognised as equals and all chefs are recognised as skilled professionals.
We are a 21st Century Union, the first of its kind and the blueprint for Unions in the future. A Union that is owned by its members and a Union that puts THEM first before politics and money.
We are unique, we are united, and we are Unichef, The National Chefs Union, Stay safe chefs, always.