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So, you want to be a Chef?

So, you want to be a Chef?

So, you want to be a Chef?

So, you want to be a Chef?

So, you want to be a Chef?

You've been charmed by the bright lights, the glam tv cooking shows, the celebrity chefs and the big glossy cookbook pictures. You're a bit of a foodie and you want to be the next person to conquer the culinary world.
You want a piece of the pie.

It's a pretty common thing nowadays, to want to be a chef, especially given the popularity of the culinary world that is shown in the media.
Who can blame anyone especially after watching it on tv. 
It looks like a great career choice with fame and fortune at the end of it, but is it the right move?

I'm a chef and have worked my way around the world as a result of it, I love the industry.
However, outside of the glam and despite some of the stories you may have seen or heard; If you're thinking about becoming a chef there are a few things you need to bare in mind before you sign up for it.

It's a career, a trade and like any other, you have to dedicate a lot of time to your career. 
If you want to become a chef (well a good one anyway) you're either in or out.
There can be no "oh I'll work one day a week and then I'll get a tv contract and be famous." no, I'm not just talking about being a cook, I'm talking about being a chef, living and breathing what you do, full absorption.

So, you want to be a Chef?

It is a very rewarding career. Working your way up through the ranks to become a head chef with a whole team working under you and young fresh faced new chefs queuing to work with you.
Creating menus that use the whole of your culinary expertise then feeling proud when the menu is a success. Clean plates coming back to the kitchen, applause when you enter the restaurant, requests for this and that recipe, magazine articles both written by you and for you.
Or even better, becoming the owner of your very own restaurant and taking it to new dizzy heights, a six month waiting list for a table and a Michelin Star.

That is one of the ultimate goals but for other chefs the reward is just being a part of that and having a hand in it's success.
Being creative and seeing your efforts appreciated is a drug, plus I don't think that there's a chef out there who hates clean plates coming back to the kitchen!
To some a chef looks like a glamorous career choice.

However, the cold hard dirty truth about being a chef is that you work long unsociable hours, with hot, sweaty and humid conditions. Your hair always smells of food, your complexion takes a beating from the grease and steam, you always have a rash somewhere, your hands and arms will be forever burnt or scarred, forget fingernails and get used to not having a suntan other than the one you get from standing in front of your oven.
You get to work holidays, evenings and weekends when everyone else is off. 

Working shitty hours soon leads you in a different social direction as there quickly becomes a brotherhood among the catering staff working together.
There's normally a hang out place that they go to after work, late in the night, for a drink and it's not at all uncommon for the staff to go out after work forgetting that they have to be up for the next day's lunch service.
It's common for chefs to stay up and go straight to the market at 5am to source out the next days produce.

It's a sacrifice that encompasses everything about your life - I didn't know what going out on a Saturday night was until quite late in life and I didn't have a Christmas off for close to 20 years, that's just the way it is.

So, you want to be a Chef?

It's a hard life in the kitchen, tough with intense service deadlines and no room for error. 

Chefs can be brutally blunt and the language particularly unsavory which may seem harsh to those unprepared and green but the ability to perform well under pressure and take criticism (however it is delivered) is one of the traits of a good chef.
You'll toughen up but you have to know how to roll with the punches and not to take everything personally. Swallowing your pride is one of the hardest things to learn.
Unless your head chef is an asshole that is, in which case learn what you can from him in the least amount of time then move on to a better one! Be careful how you do that though, they all know each other so be smart about it.

The pay - well there's a whole other story but like any other career, you get paid peanuts when you are in training.
The unfortunate thing is that when you are qualified you still get paid peanuts.
Only the top top chefs get decent pay and even then there's likely to be some sponsorship or endorsement top ups that makes their pay decent.

So, you want to be a Chef?

Still interested? Where to start?

Well, to become a chef you need to know the basics and build on them so either go to catering school or get an apprenticeship with a good chef and learn that way.
Either way there's some learning to do. If you haven't learnt the science of food or the classic way of making dishes how can you expect to take the next step.
It's learning these basics, the right way, that takes time and patience but can put you on the right path to becoming a good chef.

An apprentice chef starts at the bottom and works his/her way up the ladder. It takes a few years and it's a hard life but you learn your trade in industry rather than a classroom.
Apprentices are often sought after once training is finished especially if trained by certain well known chefs.
Apprenticeships are hard to come by but they are out there. Be prepared to cut a lot of vegetables...very precisely and work your ass off!

Going to school/college and get trained is another option.
Not some cordon bleu course making cucumber mousse and salmon vol-au-vents but a real industry recognized course so that those who are recruiting can see your pedigree and hire you based on it.

Not every chef out there wants to be the next Masterchef and quite rightly so.
The culinary industry is HUGE and within it there are many facets to choose from. It's these choices that you need to think very carefully about.
If you DO want to be the next chef of the moment then think about your path and what kind of culinary background you'll need to get you there.
Flipping burgers at McDo's won't be conducive to becoming the next molecular cuisine specialist!

So, you want to be a Chef?

There are many aspects to choose from culinary wise.

Industrial catering - This area is the one that appeals to those looking to work semi-normal hours.
These kitchens are often based within businesses that have regular working hours and serve breakfast, lunch, sometimes dinner with the odd function thrown in. Weekends off are common.
This doesn't just mean serving up a huge batch of stew in the canteen anymore. Industrial catering is big business now and can have incredibly high standards.

Armed Forces - For years the armed forces have taken the medal spots at the worlds most prestigious catering competitions so don't be fooled by the name.
The armed forces spend a lot of time training their chefs. Sure there's the mess hall to look after but there's also a lot of top brass and a lot of ceremonial events that need high end catering.

Restaurants - This is a pretty vast and vague category. The world is your oyster, you choose which direction you want to go and work hard to get there.
The best restaurants make culinary history but the bad ones often hit the headlines too so be careful which way you go.

Event Catering - Event catering is a lot of fun and pays pretty well although your work load is often condensed with very long hours and they are often very hectic.
You get to see different venues, see different types of events and cook different menus based on the event criteria.
Find a good company and you'll be mixing with celebrities and royalty before you know it!

Airline Catering - You may conjure up visions of partitioned trays and plastic cutlery but airline catering is a science.
Imagine working your way up and becoming the head chef for one of the worlds biggest airlines.
Making menus and choosing dishes for some of the most well travelled and culinary knowledgeable people in the world is a huge challenge. Plus you get travel benefits!

Cruise Ships - If you want to travel and make money this may be for you but you will work your ass off while you do it. Very rewarding though.

Hospital and dietary catering - Difficult places to work now-a-days due to changing and tighter laws but good jobs if you can get them. Especially if you like the dietary side of things.
These jobs also are sought after by those looking for "regular" hours.

So, there's just a few examples of which direction you can go if you want to become a chef.

So, you want to be a Chef?

Not all chefs have to work in restaurants...or does that make me a "cook"?

Is it a good career?
Well I think so, people always want to eat and I've never been out of work since becoming one, so you decide.

Being a chef is what YOU make it.
The food world is a rapidly expanding and changing place with boundaries being moved all the time.
You can be on the changing team if you work hard enough. Don't expect bright lights and big salaries for a few years at least.

If you want to be the next Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver remember that they did their time and learnt their trade with precision and dedication, that's why they are so good at what they do. 
Certainly like any other person who strives to be at the top of their game it takes vision, blood, sweat, tears and a lot of hard work. It doesn't come easily. 

These guys worked and fought to be where they are and are likely still fighting to stay there as now they have become the bench mark for new talent wanting to be better than them.
They are always under scrutiny from people who know better and believe me, people always know better, it doesn't matter what level you're cooking on.
Ramsay and Oliver are at the top of their game for a reason, and that reason is because they chose their battle and are simply the best at what they do.

If you're still on the fence about becoming a chef take a read of a couple of Anthony Bourdain's books.
These are like bibles to a lot of chefs.
They are well written, down to earth and very true to culinary life. He tell's you the way it is warts and all.

Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain

Medium Raw - A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook - Anthony Bourdain

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