A Love of Food – what it takes to be a great Chef!

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, so there’s no surprise that a cosy meal in a swanky restaurant tops the list of Valentine’s Day destinations hands down.

So, this Sunday we thought we’d take a closer look at restaurant industry careers with a focus on Chefs.

Quick catering industry fact: Chefs are in demand!
● According to REC 2010-2015 saw the hospitality sector create 331,000 new jobs – 17% of all jobs created in that time!
● Chefs made up 21 % of all skill shortage vacancies for skilled trades in 2015 Visit England found.

Whether you’re a wannabe Chef or a seasoned pro all this is good news! So we asked our consultants for their top tips on creating the creme de la creme of cheffing careers.

1. Why are Chefs in such demand?

There’s a few reasons. For one thing as a nation we’ve gone from shopping for ‘stuff’ to preferring to spend on ‘experiences’ – like holidays and eating out. Shoes are out sashimi is in.

Plus, the sector has been notorious for long hours and sometimes low salaries too. But, all that is changing.

2. How is the industry changing?

Increasingly restaurants are moving to create more work/life balance.

The two Michelin-starred Hibiscus restaurant recently dropped two mid-week lunch services, with an aim to help staff remain ‘fresh and focused’.

This move followed hot on the heels of the likes of Sat Bains, who was prepared to risk losing money and close more often to retain talented staff.

3. What does a Chef career look like?

The great thing about Chef work is the clear line of career progression.

Kitchens are made of many chefs. Head Chefs run the show, the Sous Chef is second-in-command, while the Chef de Partie supervises the Commis Chef at a particular station, or area, within the kitchen. Plus opportunities vary greatly.

4. What opportunities do Chefs have then?

You could be cooking anything from fast food to haute cuisine and everything in between. What’s more you don’t even have to work in a traditional restaurant. Schools, hospitals, the armed forces, private clients, events, businesses, all need Chefs.

Plus, you can even specialise in certain types of food, think: Mediterranean or Asian, fish, or desserts, say.

5. So, what qualifications do I need to become a Chef?

While there are no official prerequisites the National Careers Service advises on GCSEs in English and maths, plus a relevant course as good starting points.

But as top Chef Tom Kerridge has said there’s nothing like “just getting out there and doing it”. So, an apprenticeship could also be a good way to get on the ladder.

6. You mean skill is more important than qualifications?

Well yes, only by grasping the practical skills will you be able to work your way up.

Some key soft skills you need to prove on your CV are:

● Teamwork – a successful kitchen needs everyone to pull their weight
● Communication – you’ll have to be able to listen, understand and pass on information accurately
● Organisation – everything in the kitchen must be kept ship shape at all times, including you!

7. Give us some examples of key Chef tasks

So, preparing, cooking and presenting food in a timely manner are key to a Chef’s role, but there’s much more. Food quality and portion size have to be monitored, budgets adhered to and stock managed. A Head Chef or Sous Chef would also plan menus, staff rotas and training.

Although a good Chef must be creative that creativity must be grounded in practicality.

8. Once we’ve got the essentials what does it take to make it to the top?

Passion for food and dedication are key ingredients to success as a Chef.

Michelin-starred Chef Tony Fleming said that in the fast-paced restaurant world retaining that star means “…keeping your offer fresh, up-to-date and progressive …”.

That’s not bad advice for most Chefs, although how far you push those will depend very much on your customer. School Chefs, for example, might want to move with the times and improve nutritional standards rather than use challenging ingredients, like squid ink or fennel.

9. How can Chefs really set themselves apart?

Well, after all the above, awards and competitions can be a great way to hone and showcase skills.

From budding student to seasoned pro there’s a Chef competition to suit you.

Sat Bains was 28 and unemployed when he won the prestigious Roux scholarship! While Eyck Zimmer first got into competitions partly to prove that “…chefs working in contract catering, as he was at the time, were often just as gifted, individually, as their more glamorous restaurant rivals.”

So, if you’ve got the drive, go for it, winning or even entering an award can really make your CV shine – check out the Chef v Chef website for more info.

10. Any last words?

Get as much experience in as many kitchens as you can to build that expertise, make those relationships, enhance that CV and discover what really drives you as a Chef.

Now over to you:
Have any thoughts on what you’ve read? Are you searching for a new job? Want to ask about your particular career issues? Got any burning questions we could put to future Q & Angel guests? As ever, we want to hear what you’ve got to say!

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