Becoming a Chef

So you watch Food channels on television, you read Gourmet magazines and fancy cookbooks and think you could become a Chef. The food channels are great for inspiration for the home cook who is only cooking for 4 but in reality it is very far removed from a commercial working kitchen. Becoming a Chef is not for the faint hearted, of course that is dependable on where you wish to work for example, a cafe or a 5 star hotel. Also it depends on what kind of Chef you want to become, a restaurant Chef, or a personal Chef, or what kind of area you wish to specialize in, desserts, pan work, buffet work,or a la carte. The areas for specialization are endless, these days however a Chef has general knowledge and experience in all areas but can have a passion or strength for a particular niche and this can become their trademark or point of difference when applying for a job.

Being a Chef requires a lot of special attributes that may not be required at other jobs. For starters you have to be able to stand on your feet for long periods of time, so covered sturdy shoes are a must, in fact covered shoes are a safety regulation and you would never be able to enter a kitchen without them. You have to be able to stand the heat in the kitchen, so when someone says “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” that is exactly true. You will also experience loud noises, people yelling and sometimes in the heat of the moment fellow staff saying things they regret because they are under pressure. A busy kitchen is a stressful place to work in for everyone involved.

When a kitchen is churning out 500 meals a day that’s a lot of pressure on everybody. If you’re a sensitive type then a fast paced kitchen is probably not for you, as you would be easily offended. I remember when I was working as a prep Chef and the Sous Chef would whack you on the leg or push you aside if you were in his way. He obviously didn’t have time or the manners to say “excuse me”, but the kitchen staff got used to it and we learned not to take offence, that was just the way he worked. Usually in the kitchen, everyone works at a fast pace during service, things might be said that under normal circumstances wouldn’t be, tempers can get heated, but staff all have the same goal, to create a beautiful meal, and have it served in minimum time all without mishap. There is no time for petty arguments, or grudges, everyone has to pull together in order to have a co-operative working kitchen.

Then when the service is over that is the time for apologies between staff, maybe debriefing, differences aired, and opinions given, then everything is back to normal until the next service. Though it can be a fast paced job at times, it can be so rewarding. The skills learnt are with you for life and you’ll never be without a job, as people always have money to eat out and that’s just the cooking skills you will acquire. Other skills obtained along the way can be many, these can include:

1. Ability to work under pressure.
2. Creativity, as you work with food and put your own creative flair on it, that becomes a very satisfying skill.
3. Adapting to different environments, in a kitchen you may move from station to station, or maybe hot to cold.
4. Adapting recipes,learning ways to improvise without affecting the end result.
5. Costing recipes, of course you want to be making money on everything that is produced in the kitchen.
6. Interpersonal and communication skills as you will have to communicate with suppliers and staff
7. Negotiating skills, as you meet with suppliers to get the best deal.

These are just some of the skills you can acquire as you learn to become a Chef.

The friendships you make are life long, Chef’s are very loyal to one another as only they realize the commitment and long hours that go into the job. Chef’s usually socialise out of work as they keep similar work hours. The opportunity to use your creative skills with food is apparent. If you have a passion for food and for cooking then your almost there. However, it would pay to get some kind of formal training, though in saying that experience counts for a lot, but it’s a good idea to know hygiene regulations regarding food and basic cooking skills and techniques. There are many training schools for Chefs around the country.

There are some questions you need to ask yourself. What area do you want to specialize in? Do you wish to become a Head Chef one day? Do you wish to run your own catering business?
How committed can you be? Do you have the support of your family? Any Chef will tell you, a Chef’s life is not very family orientated, as they mostly work nights and weekends and most holidays.
There are ways you can find out if this is for you. Cook for friends, have dinner parties.

Get them to honestly critique your food. This way you can truly find out if you have got what it takes. There are many cookbooks and restaurant recipes that you can get hold of to practice with. Be creative in your cooking, use a basic recipe and add your own signature, you may create a delicious dish from this. Most importantly, be passionate about cooking, your creating something that people will love from a list of ingredients. Go for it! Being a Chef can be a most rewarding career.