Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to be asked to visit schools and colleges. Talking with students taking GCSE cookery and to those in catering colleges. I’ve helped out in food tech lessons and had the opportunity to speak with the young people about possible careers within hospitality. I personally feel that this is something we, as chefs, should be putting ourselves forward for. Engaging with young people. Showing them alternative industries. Our industry is fading out at grassroots level. It’s not really being offered as a career choice in high schools or from parents. Working in hospitality is largely seen as a job you do while training for something else. The British perception of a young person working behind a bar or as a waiter is that it is not their proper job! As for chefs. Well they just appear. There seems to be no acknowledgement that some people WANT to be chefs. Restaurants are just opened by people who like to cook…. Or the French!
I’d go in to schools and do my thing. A little cookery demonstration, help out with lessons and talk about my career. By no means the most extravagant career. But I’ve travelled, I’ve eaten, I’ve met some of the coolest people. This profession has been good to me. That’s not to say it hasn’t tried to kill me a few times. Careers in the kitchen are often overlooked. I can honestly say that the jobs mentioned by careers advisors while I was at school were heavily focused around white-collar jobs. (And I don’t mean chef jackets). Doctors, accountants, vets, business owners, teachers and that executive lifestyle. I understand that a lot of things may have changed nowadays. But for me, back in the 90’s (so long ago) it was a time which felt like there were only a handful of career options. Pick one… NOW! I still feel that 15/16 years old is far too young to be trying to think of a career, but that’s another blog, for another day.
After my visits to schools. I’d often get a message from the parents of a child asking for advice on careers as a chef for their son or daughter. Result!!!
So, here is some of the advice I pass on:
• There are so many types of chefs these days. From High-End Michelin Star and private yacht chefs to social media food stylists. The careers can be so varied and ranging. Don’t think for one second, that being a chef is all about wearing whites and shouting like Ramsay! Look into the different aspects of hospitality. Get experience of different types of cooking, food service and restaurants. Where you start is rarely how you’ll end up. Many fine dining cooks have turned to street food trucks. Café cooks who have turned to large scale event catering. Go get that experience.
• Move around: following on from previous point. Your CV should show different experiences. This is where the hospitality sector is different to most other careers. Employers like to see people who have moved around either within a company or to somewhere new. I’ve always said that 2years is a good amount of time to learn and move on. Especially in the early part of your career. Once you’ve found a position or role you are happy with and suits you, then it’s over to you.
• The hours are LONG. You will be on your feet for 12 hour days. You will put in the miles as a chef. So it’s really important that you look after yourself physically and mentally. So, factor this in when you are moving around in your career. If you find an employer or role which supports your own wellbeing, then it’s worth sticking out. These are rare unfortunately. You want to be able to take breaks, holidays and have people around you who make you feel good.
• Ask questions throughout your career. You will never stop learning. Food trends change constantly. There is always something new to learn. A few years ago, when I was teaching a mature learners class, I was shown how to make traditional samosas by one of my Somalian students. I absolutely loved that day. The teacher, becoming the student.
We are seeing a slight resurgence in the hospitality field, with people taking more of an interest through TV shows like Great British Menu, MasterChef Professionals and the wealth of cookery shows on streaming services. Unfortunately, there are a few shows which do very little to ingratiate this life as a chef. Highlighting the pitfalls, aggression and stress which can come with the Chef-life Hashtag. It’s our role as real chefs, real restaurant and bar staff, real hospitality workers to make ourselves accessible to anyone who shows an interest in this industry. Spare five minutes to talk to the those who ask. We don’t want to be replaced by vending machines.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know: What advice would you pass on? Tell me your positive industry stories? Have a great 2020! #CookStrong