Vietnam attracts millions of tourists each year to sample its cuisine, but the number of locally qualified chefs is insufficient to meet demand.

Establishing a professional training programme for chefs will enable more local cooks to get good jobs at the growing number of restaurants in the country, many of them located in hotels, experts have said.

In HCM City alone, employment centres receive 20 requests from hotels and restaurants for chefs every week, but they can find, on average, only two candidates for those jobs.

Vietnamese cuisine plays a key role in the tourism sector, according to Nguyen Nha, head of the Bep Viet ( Vietnam Chef and Cuisine) project, who spoke at a recent conference on the shortage of chefs in the country.

Last year, during a workshop on the tourism sector, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said that Vietnam 's chefs will receive more recognition if a new training programme is established.

Nha said researchers, trainers, authorities and enterprises should collaborate on the development of such a programme.

Vo Duy Lan, a lecturer at Sai Gon University , said that only 33 percent of the chefs working at top restaurants in HCM City have received formal training.

Ly Sanh, chairman of HCM City 's Professional Chefs, said that chefs must receive professional training in order to keep up with the burgeoning tourism sector.

However, he said that training and enrollment methods should shift from short to longer courses at vocational schools. The courses should offer training in all of the country's regional cuisines.

Chiem Thanh Long, director of the Binh Quoi Tourism Village , said the curriculum should include all the basic Vietnamese dishes from each region.

Nha suggested that courses be offered on the internet as well.

Phan Ton Tinh Hai, head of the Mint Culinary School , emphasised that modern equipment and techniques should be used during training.

Pham Thi Thanh Phuong, lecturer at Sai Gon University 's Culture and Tourism Faculty, said that many chefs are needed at stand-alone restaurants and hotels.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the country has 8,556 hotels. Chefs are critical to the success of many of these hotels.

The demand for chefs in Vietnam is high. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said that the tourism sector will need an additional 620,000 employees by 2015.

The ministry said the number of chefs will increase by 8 percent a year until 2015.

In addition, many countries are seeking more native Vietnamese to cook at restaurants, particularly in the Middle East .

At the Hanoi Tourism College 's Food Processing Faculty, an average of 2,000 cooks are trained each year, and all of them find jobs with a good income.

The average initial salary for a full-time cook is 3 million VND (144 USD) per month, and after one month's probation, the salary increases to 4-6 million VND (192-288 USD).

However, a professional chef who has received more extensive training can earn 500-1,000 USD per month.

If more high-quality chefs are available, restaurants and hotels will not need to rely on foreign chefs, she added.

The workshop, organised by Sai Gon University , was attended by culinary researchers, leaders of training institutes and schools, and culinary experts./.