1. DO I NEED TO GO TO CULINARY SCHOOL ?
No, going to culinary school or Catering College is not essential. Of course it will give you a certain grounding of the profession, but when I was at college we were taught the fundamentals of French cuisine, Veloutes, Bechamels, Roux’s etc etc etc, of which I never really used in my 1st paid employment position, what it did teach me was the basics of teamwork, an essential part of any high functioning kitchen, the place where it’s “never me, ALWAYS WE“, Learning to communicate effectively, no matter the amount of pressure you are under. The fundamentals of Mise en Place and the 6 “P’s” – PRIOR PREPARATION PREVENTS PISS POOR PERFORMANCE, but nothing will get you to where you want to be than pure determination.
To me, there’s no great chef without a great team.
2. WILL I GET ANY SOCIAL TIME ?
Yes, of course you will, but it wont be at the regular time all your friends outside of the profession will have, it will also depend on your sector of employment – Hospital Catering, Restaurant, Hotel, Outside Catering, Personal House Chef, Pub Chef, Chalet Chef, Yacht Chef, Resort Chef etc etc etc., each one will have its own “Peak Times” essential to that particular sector, everything outside of that period will be considered possible social time, but it will be irregular hours, so it is a case of adapting your lifestyle to your profession.
3. ARE THEY ALWAYS LONG HOURS ?
Yes and No, This profession is 100% guided by one thing and one thing only, What you give is what you get, if you are willing to add to your skill level before your pay level then the pay will always reflect it but it wont work the other way round. This profession, although vast, is very much network based, someone will always know someone, be the person that they remember you by as being determined, punctual, reliable & consistent. Sometimes the task will be absolutely mundane & boring, I remember once spending 2 hours scraping lamb leg bones of every morsel of meat that the butcher(outsourced) had left on, this went on for 2 or 3 days, day 4 I was shown how to bone out a leg of lamb, there was not a morsel of meat left on that bone, that mundane job of scraping bones subliminally guided me to the shape and layout of the bone – thus adding to my skill level. So yes working long hours it will be if you wish to get ahead, Yes, I know that’s not fair, but no other profession can offer you the scope, diversity or excitement that this one can, it can be absolutely Soul destroying one day and the next day you will feel on top of the world.
Dating or having a family is incredibly difficult. For the first few years at least, you will need to put in the hours, relationships will take a back seat, unless they are also within the industry, but as time goes on and your life gets more structured then you will be able to enjoy this avenue of life a little more. Life in a kitchen is difficult, it pressurized, hot, dangerous and it just requires so much of your attention, and you have to constantly be present at work mentally and physically each and every day.
3. WHEN DO I GET PROMOTED ?
When you’re are ready NOT when there is an opening and your employer promotes you. There is no rush, no benchmark, everyone is different and skill requirements are different for every sector you work in, there is also the “Dilbert” principle, this was quite prevalent within a company I worked for many years ago, which states that companies tend to systematically promote incompetent employees to higher levels and subsequently new contracts with the obligatory 3 month settling in zone to get them out of the workflow, which holds that employees are promoted based on success in their current position until they reach their “level of incompetence” and are no longer promoted or released under the 3 month trial period clause.
BUT, just because you are promoted doesn’t mean you are done training. I’ve been cooking for over 30 years and there are so many things that are constantly evolving in this field. You need to push yourself constantly, try new things, sometimes they will fail BIG TIME but sometimes they wont, but then it is always about the learning curve and learning from failure is the key to the next stage.
When you have made as many mistakes as I have then you can be as good as me.
SOME GOOD READS TO GET STARTED
4. ARE CREATING GOALS ESSENTIAL ?
Goals are like personal celebratory pats on your back, you should have short, mid & long term goals, they are there to give you a focal point, a driver to acheive things in a progressive manner, that said, no-one knows where there life is going to take them, so these goals will need to be adapted and changed. To change your goals is perfectly fine, one must be realistic. For example starting out I wanted to run my own small individual restaurant, but as my skill base grew in other areas, I soon realized that it was the larger kitchens of 5 Star Hotels that I felt more comfortable in, they were more rewarding and provided a more stable area for me, but that’s me. Your goals should be different.
5. WHAT ABOUT HOLIDAYS AND SICK PAY ?
Yes, you will get these, having a healthy & strong team is as important to a successful business as the bottom line. The point to raise here is, don’t expect any time off over Xmas, New Year or other national holidays, Holidays will be geared toward slow periods of trade for your particular sector. Again, the social aspect of this profession takes its toll here. Sick days, you will most probably be pulled over the coals if you try this one, Chefs are quite intuitive to these and realize when you are trying to pull a fast one, if you are genuine then you have nothing to worry about, but be prepared for some sh*t coming your way on your return to the kitchen.
6. IS THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT ?
Customer satisfaction is important, but it shouldn’t influence the food you put out. I don’t believe that I’m always right and I don’t believe that the customer is always right, but if they don’t like the food, how can you dispute it? However, that doesn’t mean your customers should be deciding on the construction of your menu. If you’re constantly just relying on your customers to decide on your menu, you’re not really doing your job. Deciding on a menu requires prior knowledge of your intended demographic, area, price bracket and provision of product.
7. WILL I BE APPRECIATED FOR WHAT I DO ?
Outside of the kitchen….probably not, inside the kitchen….probably.
The general public have a rosy eyed look at what actually happens in the kitchen, in reality they have not got a “Scooby Doo” of what happens or do they know the journey that the food has taken to be in front of them. They have seen this glorified persona of a chef on TV and think this is what it is all about. They think your day starts the minute you open the doors of the restaurant or food outlet. They think that its all about putting bits of food in nice patterns on the plate. They don’t understand the components of each dish and the skill level that is attached to each and every part of that dish, through the trimming of the artichokes, the picking of the lettuce, then there is the execution of the dish, what plate best enhances the product, what skill level is required to complete certain components. After all of that, there is the costing of the product to ensure all your overheads are covered and that your food cost is inline with what you need it to be.
Techniques are not the most difficult to teach. The attitudes chefs take are much more important.
IN A NUTSHELL WHATS IT ALL ABOUT
Being a Chef involves so much more than just cooking. It’s about creating a menu, an environment, and a setting for whatever you’re creating, converting a product to a viable income stream, understanding and respecting the product that you have and delivering it to your client by allowing the quality of the product to take center stage, by gently educating your customer to new textures and flavors. It is about adapting your skill level to the product and understanding the principles of cooking to serve that ingredient at its optimal stage.
If you do it right, then the world is your oyster, your skills will be in demand all over the world in all walks of like in all sectors of life.
WHAT IT IS NOT
A last resort profession because you can’t think of anything else to do!
I want to be a TV chef and earn lots of money!
I want to earn lots of money !
I want a social life with all my friends and start a family early!