Arnhem catering entrepreneur starts employment agency for foreign cooks

The Arnhem catering entrepreneur Mathijs Gielen of De Staat Bar & Keuken has started a second company: I-Cooks. Not a café or restaurant, but an employment agency that brings cooks from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands to work here.

Start I-CooksWith his company I-Cooks, International Cooks Agency, Mathijs Gielen (29) wants to contribute to the cook shortage in the Netherlands. He runs it next to his catering company De Staat on the market in Arnhem.  ‘We can’t solve that with I-Cooks, of course, but we can unburden the Dutch entrepreneur. Terrible word by the way… But we really do. We look for the right person abroad, take care of the transfer to the Netherlands and also arrange accommodation within a maximum of 30 to 40 minutes from the catering company.

This unburdening goes quite far, continues Gielen. ‘When a cook comes to the Netherlands, there is an immediate appointment with the municipality where he or she will be working, for inclusion in the Municipal Personal Records Database and the granting of a citizen service number. We also arrange (health) insurance. Remuneration (via payroll) is done through our partner Ergon Nederland (NBBU).’ Remuneration is done in accordance with the Dutch catering collective agreement.

First cooks start in March

Gielen is in talks with a number of large restaurant chains. He declined to name names, however. The fact is that the first chefs will start in our country in March 2019. It concerns more than 20 people. After an application,  I-Cooks promises  to be able to fulfill it between four and six weeks. Gielen does not want to share what the hourly rate is for a foreign chef. ‘Our price depends on the duration of the deployment, whether it concerns one or more cooks and whether or not accommodation is included.’

It was not so much from personal experience that Gielen started I-Cooks. ‘But when you talk to colleagues, it is always about the shortage of quality personnel. Both kitchen and service. In every conversation I heard: if you know someone else who wants to work for me, let me know… Entrepreneurs sometimes have gaps in their schedule for months that they can’t fill.’ The current shortage on the labor market prevents Gielen from starting a second catering business. On the other hand, he dared to use an employment agency.

Gielen’s company is sometimes associated with Dick van Ostaden, the former owner of Terras Top 100 winner Boshuys Hermitage in Oisterwijk. Van Ostaden runs KUS, Chefs from Spain. ‘Kus is a platform and brings supply and demand together. They match resumes, for both kitchen and service, housekeeping and front office.’ Since December 2018, KUS has been working with Kolibrie, who takes care of the payroll.

English speaking chefs

Gielen started preparing for I-Cooks about three quarters of a year ago. There are three men behind it, of which Gielen represents the catering industry. In addition, there is a technical partner and a financial expert. ‘You don’t just fly a few chefs to the Netherlands. We have really started an employment agency and, thanks to the collaboration with Ergon, we also have the necessary papers for this. Then you still have to find the right recruitment partners, who look for candidates abroad with the right work experience and education. And then housing. All of that has been quite a puzzle.’

To get a feel for the quality of the training, Gielen and his associates visited the hotel school in Lisbon. According to Gielen, people with a passion for the profession are trained there. “We saw it with our own eyes. People go to school there for at least two years, five days a week. Without vacation! We have local partners in Spain and Portugal who do the recruitment and selection and interviews with candidates for us. They do the first screening, then we take over.’ ‘The cooks must speak English and be willing to work in the Netherlands! We were surprised by how well the Portuguese speaks English,’ concludes Gielen.



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