Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Sunday, 29 March 2009 17:20 UK

Asian women chefs view defended

Sion Simon
Mr Simon has spoken on the issue in a Parliamentary debate

A Birmingham MP has defended his suggestion of employing jobless women in local Asian communities to tackle a shortage of chefs in curry houses.

One in four Midlands curry houses could close because of the shortage, some restaurant owners have claimed.

Lasan Restaurant Group founder, Jabbar Khan, has described the idea from Birmingham Erdington MP Sion Simon as "offensive to industry professionals".

Mr Simon said 60% of Bangladeshi women are "economically inactive".

'Rising drastically'

Responding to Mr Khan's comment on the BBC's Politics Show for the West Midlands, the MP said: "I think that's offensive to women to suggest that they're not capable or competent to work in the catering industry."

The Skills Minister, who spoke on the issue in a Parliamentary debate, added he was not saying anybody "can just wander from a domestic kitchen" into a professional restaurant.

Mr Simon added: "Unemployment among Bangladeshi men is much much higher than it is for the population as a whole.

To assume that someone is capable of working in a restaurant kitchen purely because that is the food of their origin is totally ridiculous
Jabbar Khan, Lasan Restaurant Group

"Unemployment across the population as a whole is rising drastically.

"In that context the idea that we have to import chefs for any kind of restaurant in large numbers all the time it's.. not going to be sustainable in the long term."

Mr Khan has claimed the MP has "quite clearly" underestimated the expertise required to be a professional chef and was unaware of social and cultural issues.

He said: "To assume that someone is capable of working in a restaurant kitchen purely because that is the food of their origin is totally ridiculous.

"Would he suggest that all the British housewives who have mastered a cottage pie are capable of producing restaurant quality cuisine?"

More difficult

Mr Khan said that mastering cooking professionally, especially Asian cuisine, requires at least three to five years.

"It is unfair to expect small business to have the luxury of trainees and apprentices when they are struggling to find skilled individuals to make up the core team in order for the business to operate."

Restaurant owners have said a new points-based system operated by the UK Border Agency makes it more difficult to bring in skilled chefs from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

The government has said it recognises the shortage problem and has included skilled chefs on what is called the Shortage Occupation List.

The Border Agency has said if a restaurateur can guarantee and prove it will pay a skilled chef at least £8.10 an hour, it should have no problem bringing in a chef.

But the body which advises on who should be on the Shortage Occupation List has been asked by the government to review in September the position of skilled chefs.

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