Getting into the kitchen

If the chef whites are just calling out your name, here’s a handy guide to getting into the industry. 

A foot in the door

Many chefs start their professional journey by joining a hotel or restaurant as a kitchen porter, running between the larder and the kitchen, washing dishes and tidying equipment away. From this perspective, you get to see the inner workings of a kitchen and gain some insights into food preparation. If you show interest and enthusiasm, then over time you may be given the opportunity to work on simple starters or puddings. This isn’t the fastest route out there, but it’s not uncommon, and it may also make you a better leader when you’re the head chef of a kitchen and you can empathise with the different roles of your colleagues.

Perhaps you will opt instead for a more direct route, and decide to study with a vocational college. Don’t just choose your closest provider: look at each prospectus and visit every department that interests you, to make sure the course seems a good fit for you. Some places will offer a part-time route, which would be perfect for studying while gaining some paid kitchen experience.

What do I need?

Becoming a chef requires great skill, but it doesn’t demand too many academic qualifications, so if you were the kind of student to prefer being up and doing stuff rather than wedged behind a desk, writing, then there’s nothing to worry about.

In general, chefs require good listening skills (it’s important to get orders right, and follow directions exactly as you are told); nerves of steel (it’s fast and high pressure… You know that phrase, “Can’t stand the heat?”); an eye for perfectionism (every dish should look the same); a creative mind (though don’t worry if this doesn’t come immediately: you’re going to be inspired more over the time you spend in the kitchen, making and tasting). And of course, you need some smart chef whites, but your employer will provide those!

How do I find a job?

– Create a CV with your qualifications and relevant experience (and don’t forget your name and contact details). Keep a couple in your bag so that whenever you pass a restaurant, pub or hotel with vacancies advertised, you can drop one in.
– Seek out the jobs, rather than waiting for them to come to you. Try a recruitmentagency for chefs like Chef Help, and find dozens of vacancies near you, as well as further advice on job-hunting.

So what are you waiting for? Chop chop!

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