The word “chef” comes from the French term
chef de cuisine and means, director or head of a kitchen.
Food is so important to the French that students are taught about classic French dishes.
Chefs come to classes and teach students how to taste, smell and, yes, cook.
Thus, not surprisingly, the French have influenced much of the world’s cuisine.
For example, Auguste Escoffier, a French chef and writer is a legendary figure.
He published Le Guide Culinaire, considered by many the Bible of cooking.
I used the word cuisine earlier. So what does it mean?
A cuisine is a specific set of cooking traditions and practices.
For example you have African cuisine, Asian cuisine and fusion cuisine.
For us humans’, eating is not only a basic activity but also a dilemma.
A vast amount of our brain space and time revolves around the subject of food.
So my first piece of advice. If you are considering being a chef, you have to go beyond just loving
food or cooking. There has to be a much deeper passion.
A passion that, for example, motivates you to travel hundreds of miles JUST to sample
an item of food. So after this broad introduction, let’s
return to our objective. What does a chef actually do?
So firstly we have the cooking component. A chef is capable of cooking and presenting
a wide variety of foods. But this does not happen from day 1.
So in the beginning you could be involved in the cutting and peeling of food items.
With time, you begin preparing side dishes followed by main dishes.
Chefs are also involved in food tasting and presentation.
There is a saying that you eat with your EYES first.
Thus the visual sensation of a dish is as important as its flavour.
Then there is strategy planning. How to you plan for a wedding banquet or a
political fund raising dinner? What would be your strategy if you are setting
a stall at the local Food Market? Chefs are also responsible for managing kitchen
inventory. Chefs raise inventory requisitions which are
reviewed and approved by more senior chefs. Doing this may require awareness of certain
computer applications. Now how do you become a chef?
Having spoken to a few people, there are 2 common routes.
The first route begins after you finish Matric or Grade 12.
At this point, you start your career as an apprentice in a restaurant.
This means that you learn skills by watching and assisting other chefs.
Those who chose this route may also study further while on the job.
This is a good thing to do since employers normally help with getting a degree or diploma.
In a few years’ time, you not only have practical experience but also the necessary
educational qualifications to back you up. The other route involves getting a full time
Education. These courses are normally 3 to 4 years in
duration and involve taking entrance tests and interviews
Most programs offer a broad education in nutrition, food preparation techniques, pastry making,
and other basic cooking knowledge. Now imagine yourself as a Chef.
What are some of the joys and challenges of your job?
Let’s start with the joys. Joys of the Craft
As a chef you get the opportunity to make people happy.
Happy, with a great dining experience – one that they will cherish forever.
You never know who you will serve next. An individual we interviewed served as the
personal chef of her countries prime minister. How many other professions offer such opportunities?
As a chef your kitchen is your lab. And you get plenty of opportunities to experiment.
Lastly as mentioned before, this job is not only about preparing food.
You could also mix your love of food with other skills.
For example, many chefs are keen food photographers. Challenges of the Craft
Now let’s look at the challenges You have to be mentally and physically fit
since this job involves long hours The role also demands a high level of commitment.
One person we interviewed said work prevented him from being around, during the birth of
his children. Now let us look at the prospects of being
a chef. You would start as a trainee chef or apprentice.
In this role you learn what it takes to become a chef from seniors.
With time you become a chef de partie or line cook.
You would run a specific section of the kitchen such as pastry, fish, sauces, vegetables and
so on. The next role is that of a Sous-Chef.
Here you would be second-in-command. A sous chef is accountable for the kitchen’s
inventory, cleanliness, organization, and training of other kitchen staff.
Finally you progress into the role of an executive or head chef.
This person is in charge of all things related to the kitchen, which usually includes menu
creation, management of kitchen staff, purchase and presentation. Cooking at this stage would
take a backseat. Diversification into other roles such as restaurant
manager or Food and Beverage director is another option.
Lastly many chefs opt for the entrepreneurial route and start their own restaurants.