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Author: Chef Perry
If you enjoy cooking and love good food, you might be considering becoming a chef or pursuing a career in the culinary arts. But knowing how to become a chef isn't as clear-cut as other professions.
It's a long road to becoming a professional chef, and there are several paths you can take to get you there. Regardless, there will be a lot of long hours, double shifts, and collapsing into bed with aching feet, before you'll hear someone snap, "Yes, Chef!" to you.
The path to a successful culinary career can be confusing, as well.
Want to be a doctor? The path is pretty much the same for everyone: Medical school, specialty school, and internship. Becoming a chef, however, is not quite so easily defined. The term "chef" is a position of employment, and not based on a specific educational achievement.
You can be a chef at practically any age, and any experience level, merely by being hired for the position. If you want to be a GOOD chef, however, there is schooling and training that not only improve your resume but teach you the skills and techniques to be able to DO the job.
Now, before we pack up and move to the big city, or write a huge check to a culinary institution, understand that this is a hard job, and one not suited for a lot of people's lifestyle or personality.
Being a chef requires, at a minimum:
It takes a strong commitment to your craft to become a successful chef. You'll be working when your friends and family aren't: Nights, weekends, holidays, for most, if not all of your career. You'll also be expected to show up on time and ready to work for EVERY scheduled shift. This is practically a religious requirement in much of the industry and chefs who show up late, or call in "too sick to work", typically don't last long.
Have I mentioned hard work? Being a chef is hard work. You'll cover shifts for other employees, work doubles with little or no notice, and be expected to maintain the same energy and performance in that second shift as you did during the first.
A night in the kitchen is like 8 hours at the gym. You'll be on your feet and moving fast for practically your whole shift. You'll be bending, squatting, carrying, lifting, dodging, and hauling constantly. Working your way up the ranks requires a strong back, good knees, and a lot of endurance.
"Rocky" music is optional.
The restaurant kitchen is no place for the clumsy or the accident-prone.
The movement in a fast-paced kitchen is almost a dance, staff flow around each other in confined spaces while carrying objects that can be blistering hot or razor-sharp, brushing shoulders, slipping past and around one another without ever colliding or breaking the flow.
Chopping, slicing, and other preparation techniques require speed, confidence, and efficiency. A lack of dexterity and grace not only slows down productivity but can also increase the danger of serious injury to yourself and the rest of your crew.
It's more than just knowing how to cook a lot of food quickly, or how to read and follow a recipe. A chef needs to be able to prepare food that is unique and exciting while still maintaining the integrity of the dish. He must have a keen understanding of marrying various flavours and textures of food, as well as an eye for a pleasing and professional presentation of each dish.
If you can check all four of those off your list and the job still sounds good, your next step is getting some experience.
Not so long ago, in the days before "Culinary Schools", the route to becoming a chef started younger… much younger. Boys as young as 8-years-old were "apprenticed" to chefs to learn the trade. They slaved away for little more than room and board, sleeping on the kitchen floor, and eating whatever was left at the end of the day. They would start and stoke the oven fire, scrub greasy pots and pans with cold water, haul garbage, and do whatever other menial jobs that the chefs considered to be beneath their status.
From that lowly position, they were slowly given more responsible chores (chopping veggies, roasting bones for stock, etc.,) as they gradually, worked their way up through the ranks and positions of the line until they were ready to assume the title of chef themselves.
This story is similar to my training, though in slightly less Dickensian conditions, growing up in my family's restaurants before moving on to formal schooling.
While "Chef" is not a title of educational achievement like "Doctor" is, you can, however, achieve certification at various levels in the "Culinary Arts." But why is this training useful?
There's a lot more to being a chef than cooking a good steak and, while a formal education isn't a requirement for the job, the experience and training in the full range of responsibilities and skills essential to doing the job, are most easily learned in a culinary school or program.
With options like private colleges such as Le Cordon Bleau, as well as technical school alternatives like TAFE, there is a vast range of courses for which you can sign up.
It isn't a must for the aspiring chef, but it IS a good sign to the hiring manager at your favourite restaurant that you have exposure to the training and skills that you'll need to do the job and, hopefully, move your resume to the call-back list.
Another critical factor of culinary training is that it's a window looking into the rest of your career. Every cut, burn, aching muscle, and gallon of sweat is a preview of the job for many years to come, and this is the best time and place to decide if that life is the one for you.
Once again, attaining and maintaining the position of a chef mostly comes down to your ability to do the job, do it well, and do it consistently.
That's how you become a chef.
Read More: Tips for New Chefs
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