Are you interested in spreading love through mouthwatering dishes? Then becoming a chef might be the best career choice for you. Becoming a chef is a fulfilling career, as there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching people enjoy delicious food that you made yourself.
Whether cooking is a hobby that you would like to make into a career or a passion that you actively pursue, as long as you want to become a chef, then this article is for you.
What's in this guide?
Who is a chef?
Chefs are professionals who have undergone training to acquire deep knowledge and a thorough understanding of all the aspects of food preparation, including cooking techniques, different flavours and ingredients. Chefs typically have a specific area of specialization. They can make food from scratch that everybody will enjoy.
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Hierarchy in the professional kitchen
Just like every other career, there are levels before you attain the highest position as a head chef. They include:
- Chef de cuisine (chief of the kitchen): Also known as executive chef or head chef, they are the most experienced and skilled chefs in an establishment. They are the highest on the pyramid and are responsible for running the kitchen.
- Sous chef (under chef): Sous chefs are second in command after the head chefs. They control the quality of the food and the responsibility of running the kitchen may fall on them since the head chef may have more overarching roles.
- Chef de partie (chief of the group): Also known as line chefs or station chefs, they are responsible for running different sections of the kitchen. They are usually chefs who have a speciality and work specifically in the section of the kitchen that involves their speciality. Examples include a butcher, fish chef, pastry chef, vegetable chef, etc.
- Commis chef (junior cook): Also known as apprentice chefs, they work alongside other more experienced chefs to gain experience. They usually work under a line chef where they report to the line chefs and learn all about that station.
- Plongeur (kitchen porter): Also known as kitchen assistants, they are chefs who do the most menial and time-consuming tasks like peeling vegetables and tidying utensils.
- Escueliere (dishwasher): As the role implies, dishwashers are responsible for collecting dirty dishes and prepping them for the dishwasher or manually washing them.
It’s highly unlikely that you will get a position as a head chef as soon as you start. Most likely and more beneficial to you, you will start with a lower position like a kitchen assistant or junior cook. Do not shy away from a position as a dishwasher, as it may be the perfect stepping stone to attaining a higher position.
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How to Become a Chef
1. Develop your cooking skills
Your journey to becoming a chef starts with the passion to create delicious food that people will enjoy. You must have a genuine love for food. If you have this passion, then there is no need to wait till you become a professional chef. You can start building your skills even while at home by trying different recipes and experimenting with different ingredients to create your recipes. Share your dishes with family and friends so they can give their input. This will help you gain a basic understanding of flavours and learn some cooking skills before you start learning how to cook on a professional level.
Try to experiment as much as you can. You can try making different types of cuisines, add some changes to a recipe you already know, or make your recipe. Some of the dishes you will make might be inedible at first, but don’t agonize over it, because as you continue to learn and experiment, the more successful you will be at making delicious dishes.
Open yourself up to criticism by sharing your food with others and requesting feedback. This may make you nervous but it is important in helping you grow. If your goal is to become a professional chef, you will come to the point where you will have to serve your food to others, so this is the best avenue for you to start.
At this stage, there may be a chef that you admire. If there is, then try to follow them on social media and imitate their cooking style. As you experiment with their styles you can try to tweak it a bit to find something that truly interests you. You can also watch cooking shows and online tutorials to see what being a chef looks like.
Getting a job in a restaurant may be beneficial to you. You get to see how real chefs and cooks do their jobs. You may also learn some skills and get a glimpse into what being a professional chef feels like. You could just be a waiter/waitress or an assistant in the kitchen; even if you are not cooking, it will still give you valuable insight that will be beneficial to you in your future career as a chef.
2. Enrol in a culinary school
Ultimately, if you want to become a professional chef, you will have to go through formal education in a culinary school. It isn’t exactly compulsory, but it will help you out in your career. It will help you gain a solid foundation of culinary skills and master basic culinary techniques.
Make sure you research culinary programs and enter the appropriate schools. Culinary courses may be offered at colleges, vocational schools, or culinary institutes. A culinary course may last anywhere from a few months to 4 years. You may study culinary arts as a bachelor’s degree in a university which will take you 4 years. On the other hand, learning culinary arts in a vocational school will last just a few months. The type you choose will depend on your career goals.
If you are interested in opening your restaurant in the future, then you may want to find programs that offer classes in business, administration, management and human resources.
3. Seek specialization and gain a professional qualification
Though you do not need to obtain a certificate to be a chef it will put you in a better position when searching for jobs. There are many specializations in the culinary world, including baking and pastry, international cuisine, farm-to-table cooking, and many more. Choose the one that best fuels your passion and build your skills on it.
If you decide to gain certification, research culinary bodies in your country and find out about the tests you will have to pass. Then put your all into preparing for it. Once you ace the test and meet all the requirements, your certification will be handed to you and you will officially become a professional certified chef.
4. Build your experience
Gaining practical experience will not only improve your cooking skills but will also improve your resume and make you more qualified for jobs. You can work for a small restaurant around you or seek an internship or apprenticeship at bigger restaurants. Learning from seasoned professionals will help you build your skills, master all the basics and introduce you to advanced skills.
Looking for professional kitchens to work in will help you sharpen your skills and gain invaluable experience. It will also help you build lasting connections with like-minded people.
You can try participating in culinary competitions to put your skills to the test and make your soul known in the culinary world. You never know, an important person may take notice of your skills and open you up to invaluable opportunities.
5. Find a job
Kickstart your professional career as a chef by applying for jobs. There are several paths you can take as a professional chef; you could work as a personal chef for families, open your restaurant or look for a job in a restaurant.
Whichever path you choose is up to you, however, it will benefit you to work alongside other chefs in restaurants especially when you are just starting. There, you can meet more senior chefs, learn from them and build lasting connections.
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Doing what you love and earning money from it brings a sense of fulfilment that cannot be described. If you have a passion for cooking and would like to build a career from it, then there are steps you have to follow. It doesn’t exactly have to be as it was outlined above, but it will give you a guideline on how to go about doing so.
You also have to keep in mind that being a chef entails you to invest continuously in learning. New cooking techniques are always being introduced and new ingredients are always being discovered, so you have to make sure you are always up to date while sharpening the skills you already have.