Thursday, December 28, 2006

How to Become a Chef

Don't do it for the money. Except for a handful of celebrity chefs and restauranteurs, the income level is fairly average. A Sous Chef in a small restaurant may make $9-10 per hour in the U.S., while an Executive Chef for a large hotel may make $125,000. Just do it because you love to cook.


1. Love food - if you don't, you'll be a cook, not a chef.

2. Learn everything about the food you love and, more importantly, about the food other people are willing to pay money to eat. Organic, free range, kosher, kobe - these are all good to know. If it's patisserie you're interested in, know that a souffle isn't just a bunch of hot air.

3. Become confident with a knife. You don't need to butcher a chicken with surgical precision just yet, but knowing the breast from the thigh will certainly help you a lot, both in life and in cooking. Know that size doesn't matter because a 2" turning knife can do some jobs faster than a 10" chef's knife.

4. Try working in the industry. In Europe, the interview process is a day working at the restaurant, for free. You see what they can do, they see what you can do, if it's a match made somewhere close to heaven, or you're a cooking god, you're hired. Students are allowed to learn through work experience under similar circumstances, where they are not paid, but put in a full day, week, or month for an agreed amount of time. Ask to work in the kitchen of your dreams to see if this is the life you really want. Even fast food experience is applicable. The most important thing is that you get exposure to the conditions, techniques, equipment, and culture.

5. Executive Chefs tend to fall into two categories; those who teach, and those who don't. Those who teach are willing to share their knowledge, expertice, and experience with any employee who is willing to learn, and seeks out the information. Those who don't expect absolute precision in faithfully replicating their ideas and concepts, with no room for creativity and expression. While both have their place, it is important to work with someone willing to assist you in your future goals. Once you have acquired a skill set, you can go work for the demanding tyrant.

6. Buy or borrow copies of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential", "The Professional Chef" from the Culinary Institute of America, and "Becoming a Chef" by Dorenburg and Page. read Bourdain and Dorenburg. Put Professional Chef on your shelf - it's an indispensable reference.

7. If after all this you still want to be a chef, you have a couple options: a) Go to cooking school. As most cooking is seeped in the French tradition, a French training-based course is an option. b) Try on the job training - through your school or job centre you may be able to find a paying position at a restaurant. Always pick the places that emphasize good hygiene - both yours and theirs.


* Check out the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation.

* Eat Out! Cooking at a restaurant is nothing like cooking at home, and there is a lot of good information and ideas on menus.

* Check out culinary programs at the community colleges in your area. More and more schools are offering night classes, certificate programs, and full culinary degrees.

* Be nice to everyone. The industry is highly incestuous and the potwashers and guests you meet today may be opening the hot new fusion restaurant tomorrow.

* You must have a step by step plan of how you are going to become a chef.