A passion for food and how it brings people together often spurs a person to pursue a career as a chef. But it isn’t all rockstar fame as Heston Blumenthal would have you believe, or aggressively insulting dishes, as you might gather from Gordon Ramsay’s televised antics.
We won’t lie; the road to success can be rocky in this industry, as we’re sure everyone has realised from celebrity chef TV Shows and biographies. So a love for creating decadent dishes, a dedication to working hard, and an ability to demonstrate resilience is paramount. If you’re willing to put in the hours, the rewards can be significant, however. And there’s also more good news – everyone loves, and is interested in, food! The popularity of cooking programs such as Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules is a testament to the fact. So your skills as a chef aren’t set to go out of fashion anytime soon! Here’s what you can expect from a career as a chef, and how to get started on your journey to culinary success!
What type of jobs can I get with a qualification as a chef?
There are LOTS of different types of chefs out there! Furthermore, they don’t all work in restaurants, as you would typically believe. A Chef may work for a hotel, on a cruise ship, in a canteen on an industrial worksite, for the defence force, for a university college, as part of a catering company or in a hospital. Chefs are required in a wide range of industries. Which area you decide to specialise in, and where you choose to work, depends upon your interests, qualifications, experience and opportunities. Let’s take a quick look at the typical chefs you would find in a professional kitchen:
Executive chef/head chef. The head honcho. The executive chef is in charge of creating the menu and mostly management tasks. They may actually do very little cooking in their day-to-day activities but will scrutinise every dish before it leaves the kitchen to ensure that it’s perfect.
Sous chef. The assistant to the head chef, the sous chef helps to manage all of the other chefs and may also create dishes for the menu.
Commis chef. The junior in the kitchen. A commis chef will work under a chef de partie to learn more about the various stations with the kitchen. They will often recently have completed formal training, or still be learning.
Chef de Partie/station chef. These are the chefs that specialise in one area eg. pastry. They are responsible for everyone in their station. The following are all examples of chef de partie titles: Pastry chef, saucier, fish chef, meat chef, fry chef, grill chef, roast chef, vegetable chef.
As you can see, there is a massive range of areas that you can specialise in as a chef! It all comes down to what you’re most interested in and where your strengths lie.
What is the pay like?
Pay for chefs can vary dramatically, and often gets better as you gain more experience. As an apprentice, you won’t be making a lot; approximately $15 to $21 an hour. But as you climb the ladder and become a chef in a professional restaurant kitchen, you can expect to make around $18 to $26 an hour. The average annual salary for a head chef in Australia is $79009. But remember that all of these figures can differ depending on what industry you work in. And tips play an important role too, especially in the tourism sector.
What is the average day like?
The duties you carry out as a chef on a daily basis will depend upon your title in the kitchen. However, most chefs will have experienced the following during their career path:
- Prepare and cook food.
- Order food supplies and monitor deliveries, including product quality.
- Estimate the costs of food and labour.
- Plan menus and create dishes.
- Plan dishes for specific dietary requirements.
- Carry out quality control for dishes.
- Troubleshoot food preparation issues and discuss these with kitchen staff and managers.
- Enforce food safety regulations and work safety regulations within the kitchen environment.
It’s important to remember that a chef’s job often doesn’t operate in the typical nine till five hours of the day. A chef will typically work late nights and early mornings, depending on the institution they are hired by. You may need to get up very early to source fresh ingredients from local markets or work late into the night for hotels and restaurants.
The ability to be flexible is invaluable in this industry as circumstances can change at the drop of a hat, and the kitchen is a fast-paced and sometimes stressful place to be. Working under pressure is commonplace, as is working long hours. But this also means that your coworkers can transform into a tight-knit community, and if you thrive in a competitive, lively environment, it can push you to become even better at your job.
Is there the possibility of career advancement?
Very much so! Most chefs begin at the bottom and work their way up. Many aspire to eventually climb the ladder to become an executive chef. Others are happy to specialise in one area as a chef de partie, and then branch out to a different career path. This could mean opening your own restaurant or shop front, becoming a teacher in a culinary school, or even writing and releasing a recipe book!
Some chef’s careers can skyrocket almost overnight if their talents are picked up by celebrity endorsements or they’re given opportunities to work under internationally renowned chefs. Many chefs are also TV personalities, some reaching celebrity status and partnering with large supermarkets. The opportunities for growth really are endless in this industry – a massively exciting prospect for many aspiring chefs!
How do I start a career as a chef?
According to studies conducted by Job Outlook, “around two in three workers have at least a Certificate III or higher Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification,” to become a chef. You can begin your education with a Certificate II in Kitchen Operations and from there decided whether you wish to focus on catering, with a Certificate III in Catering Operations or to work in a commercial kitchen with a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery. Afterwards, it’s up to you whether you wish to carry your education further with a Diploma or Advanced Diploma, or perhaps a Certificate IV in a specialised area of cooking, such as pastry or sauce. Just remember that you can work and study at the same time and that this will assist you to gain more relevant experience and actively utilise the theory that you are learning. Contact Work Skills for more information on how to begin your training to become a chef, while also undertaking an apprenticeship.