A chef is a highly skilled cook who oversees the preparation of food in restaurant and hotels. Furthermore, they may delegate jobs to lower-level cooks, thereby managing the everyday workings of professional kitchens. Chefs select and check all food ingredients being used as well as their freshness and quality and they also keep a check on the equipment being used and maintain the cleanliness of their work area. They also have to come up with new and innovative food recipes and determine the size, quality and presentation of prepared meals. They may further hire and train new cooks, kitchen staff and teach junior cooks the art of cooking.
Chefs need to have an understanding of basic management skills and human resources management as many chefs own restaurants and businesses in the food industry. They need to know the techniques and processes involved in planting, growing and picking plants, vegetables, fruits and other such food items. They may further need to have a thorough understanding of quality control, distribution of goods and services and the costs involved in this business. What chefs ultimately need, however, is dedication and respect for their profession and an innate love for food.
How to Become a Chef?
In order to work towards becoming a chef, one must follow certain steps. It may take years of hard work, dedication and experience in the food industry before you can call yourself a chef.
Holding a high school diploma or GED certification is critical for creating foundation for your career pursuits. After high school, those interested in becoming chefs have a number of options available to them. They may complete an associate degree, post-secondary certificate or even a bachelor’s program. An increasing number of budding chefs are attending community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, and 4-year colleges as well as opting for online courses and degree programs. However, a degree alone will not ensure your success as a chef. This is why the courses in the culinary programs are focused around cooking skills acquired in the kitchen, practicing cooking methods, cooking different types of dishes, food sanitation, managing your work station, etc. These classes are meant to imitate the real world experiences that chefs face in restaurants.
Training and Experience
Aspiring chefs have the option of enrolling in apprenticeship programs offered by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions that have been authorized by the U.S. Department of Labor. These programs may usually be of two years and require 1000 hours of on-the-job training by skilled and professional chefs. The courses cover food safety and sanitation, knife-use, use of equipment and all practical skills required in a chef’s kitchen.
There are also many examples wherein chefs never specifically studied culinary arts yet went on to become world-famous chefs. What made them stand out was their cooking experience. Some chefs learn at home from their family members, while others apprentice at established restaurants. Some may even work as protégés for well-known chefs. Whatever the case may be, it is essential that prospective chefs get work experience in real life setting as it may prepare them for this challenging profession. Therefore, some spend years learning the trade.
Alice Waters, called the ‘mother of American food’ and arguably the most influential cook in the U.S. in the last fifty years, did her graduate study in French culture and then polished her culinary skills through sheer hard work and practice. Another world renowned cook, Paula Deen, was a struggling mother of two who almost went broke before starting her culinary career. Mario Batali joined a reputable college for cooking and went on to become the owner of several award-winning restaurants all over the world.
What are some of the skills a chef needs?
All good chefs exhibit certain skills that are essential for being successful in the trade. Some of them include:
A chef’s kitchen is the center of all culinary activities in any given restaurant or hotel. Managing them effectively therefore takes care and attention to detail. Chefs also need to balance efficiency with quality and food presentation.
Chefs are typically expected to create signature dishes. Replicating popular cuisine can also be a great challenge, but what truly set great chefs apart are their own innovative ideas for various courses. This will require you to thin outside the box.
Fine dining is not all about the taste and flavor of food; what keeps customers coming back again and again is how uniquely it is served, the presentation, aroma and condiments. Chefs therefore need to be aware of the impressions that their dishes will have on their diners. Being in-tune with your senses will help in creating a memorable dish.
Leadership and Communication
Being a chef thus demands effective communication skills leading from example. A chef is the head of the kitchen staff and thus is responsible for maintaining the quality of dishes going out of his kitchen. During peak times when a large volume of orders need to be catered to, it can become quite challenging to delegate jobs and communicate clearly. Thus it will take a chef with strong communication and leadership skills to motivate the workers.
Licenses, certifications, and registrations
Even though it is not exactly a requirement to get certified as a chef, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers certification in numerous culinary proficiency programs. These include cooking professionals, baking and pastry professionals, culinary administrators, culinary educator etc. According to O*Net Online, chefs earned a median annual wage of $42,490 2013.
Fine cuisine is considered an art form in itself, and can in some cases draw the same kind of respect and admiration as that of a famous painting or sonnet. As important as they may be, it takes more than just an education and love for food to become a good chef. It takes years of training and practice as evidenced in the case of the world renowned host of master chef Gordon Ramsay, who once said, “If you want to become a great chef, you have to work with great chefs.” You also require innovation, finesse and an eye for detail while cooking. It was Julia Child, the first true celebrity chef of the world, who put it best when she said “This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun!”