How to Become a Chef?

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How to become a chef? When I started in the food industry there was really only one way. Becoming a chef was straightforward and held fewer options than are available today. An apprenticeship involving on-the-job training plus Tafe/College.

Chef James Long working
Chef James Long took an apprenticeship before entering the workforce as a commis chef. He progressed through junior sous and sous to head or executive chef at a 5 star hotel. This journey took him 10 years. He has worked in some of the best kitchens in London and in Australian resorts and restaurants.

In Australia the apprenticeship lasted from 3-4 years, starting at 18 or 16, and gave you a great grounding in hospitality and kitchens.

The UK is slightly different in that most trainee chefs start younger, at 16, and complete 2 years of college before moving to the workforce.

City and Guilds was the established standard in days-gone-by but has now been replaced by the NVQ certification. Today there seems to be any manner of ways you can become a chef. As with anything, some are better than others.

How to become a chef?

How to Become a Chef?

Drive is Critical to be a Good Chef

How to become a chef in this instant world where everyone thinks they can master anything quickly?

Regardless of which route you take, the most important attributes in the candidate are drive and work ethic. This is true for most professions but more so in the catering industry.

I think the TV cooking show don’t help and give false expectations. Potential students come away from these shows thinking that you can cook a 3 course meal from scratch in an hour. Some become disillusioned when after a few months they can’t cook like Ramsey and more importantly, are not allowed to work in all sections of the kitchen.

I see this time and time again with kids that don’t want to work in larder or veg sections preferring the more glamourous divisions. With zero skills behind them it would just set them up to fail if they moved on so quickly.

The apprenticeship is 3-4 years because it takes that long to learn and practice the skills in the kitchen. After that amount of time you know enough to be useful but you are still a long way from being a complete chef.

Young Chefs Need Patience

This is tied into the above in that even with drive, it still takes patience to make the grade as a chef today.

There are so many cooking methods and techniques that it’s unlikely you’ll master them all but you need a firm grounding in the basics.

Without understanding your whole knowledge is built on sand. I see chefs with gaps in their knowledge come unstuck when difficult situations arise.

My former exec chef told me once, why race to become an exec chef when you can spend the next 30 years doing it.

Get it right and focus on becoming a great exec chef first. That applies to nearly all kitchen positions but is rarely adhered to.

University Internships for Chefs

university courses for hospitality have become very popular of late.

People take a hospitality management degree and then becom an intern for a short period.

Unfortunately, these courses result in general knowledge about numerous areas but no in-depth knowledge at all.

I’m of the opinion that this will cause a big skills shortage in the hotel industry in the next few years.

New chefs rush through the hotel doing no more than a few months here and there. This is OK until something that takes experience to deal with crops up.

Most are left lacking those skills after university courses and don’t have the experience to solve a problem or take things forward in different directions.

In the next decade as the older workers leave the industry specialist knowledge will be lost and won’t be easily replaced. For me this is the worst way to become a chef.

Self Taught or On the Job Training for Chefs?

It is possible to craft an apprenticeship of sorts without formal qualifications from Tafe or College. This is not nearly as common today as the world has become more certificate-based.

I think these candidates have a lot of merit though.

If you can stick it out and are self-driven enough to complete the required time on the job without anyone’s help, then you’ll more often than not succeed.

It comes back to the patience and drive, important parts of being a chef.

There simply is no quick way to become a high-ranking chef (or any job for that matter, if you want to do well) regardless of what schools, universities, and institutions say.

This direct route is a good way to become a chef but one thing that could be lacking is a complete knowledge of all classical skills.

The full spectrum of skills that can be acquired at culinary school may not be available in every kitchen. For instance, a great Italian restaurant chef may not learn French classical cuisine.

Picking the Best Way to Become a Chef For You

While the number of ways to become a chef have changed, there are still really only a few routes that I personally recommend.

On-the-job training through either a formal apprenticeship or self-taught chef skills are the best and continue to bestow the benefits of in-depth knowledge.

Even as the institutions slowly cut down on the time required to achieve a qualification, you’re still exposed to more real experiences in a working kitchen.

Perhaps you don’t want to be in the kitchen forever and are using it as a stepping stone to other positions in the hospitality industry.

This is for you for Pinterest.

how to become a chef

In that case, the university internships may be be more for you, just as long as you realise the limitations of internships.

Is Becoming a Chef a Good Career Choice?

Being a chef used to be a good career choice but in recent years it has become less and less desirable.

Chefs used to be respected, that isn’t the case these days, pay has dropped, there are staffing shortages worldwide and a typical chef will spend a lot of time just troubleshooting.

A chef’s working hours are terrible, you will be working evenings, weekends, and Christmas Day. The strange hours and intense working conditions are bad for anyone’s health, physical and mental.

You will need a very understanding partner, and you won’t see your kids as much as you should.

This was a big driving force in my decision to travel full-time, I was missing out on being a dad. A travelling dad has more fun!

Do I recommend becoming a chef? No, I got out of the industry and now only cook for private clients.

Being a chef is not the good job it used to be.

On the positive side, it is very easy to get a job as a chef just about anywhere in the world, if you can put up with being underpaid for your years of experience and skills.

Any chefs out there have anything they want to add to this discussion?

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Chef is James Long, a professional chef, world traveler and endurance athlete. He has spent almost a decade traveling and working internationaly.

7 thoughts on “How to Become a Chef?”

  1. James had a love of cooking from a very young age and many the time when i was tired or unwell he would hop in and cook the evening meal for the family. I never thought it would result in such a successful career enabling him to travel and work overseas.

  2. My husband was very fortunate to have some great executive chefs early on that taught him everything they did as they went. He was a fast learner, read everything culinary he could get his hands on and is a hard worker. It totally paid off. I’m so proud of him.

    • Thanks for reading Jennifer, Good to hear because its so important to have some great Exec Chefs when you’re starting out and going through the ranks. They keep you grounded and on course with a good career and career moves. He’s certainly doing brilliantly from what I read in your blog. He deserves the praise, kitchen jobs aren’t the easiest out there that’s for sure.

  3. “Patience is key.” I love this statement. More often, when somebody asks, what are requirements for becoming a chef? We think of culinary schools and restaurant experience. We sometimes forget that it takes character, too. But for a great culinary experience, I strongly suggest Culinary School because of its mostly hands-on teaching.

  4. Hi I enjoy cooking for families and friends. I create my own recipes. I sometimes give small samples and then get their feed backs. I would love to cook for people because alot of us rely on take aways or microwave meals. So is there a chance for me. I have food and hygiene certificate. Always creating a business cards known as Catering residential. Basically I come to people’s homes check their fridge/freezers and cupboards then gives me some ideas,then I discuss more further and also the times and payments agreed upon. So it would nice that people for once they enjoy home fresh cooked meals. Help me where do I start? Thanks.


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