With the rise of the celebrity chef, it is becoming very tempting for many people to choose a career in cookery. But what do you need to get started?
In this article, we will outline the options to become a professional chef, from work experience to a degree.
Add a pinch of work experience
Firstly, it’s worthwhile for you to gain an insight into the cooking industry as a trainee (or commis) chef.
A traineeship will not only give you at least 100 hours of work experience to show potential employers your passion for food, but will also make your CV writing and interview skills stronger. It will give you the chance to get your maths and English up to a decent standard if need be, which employers will also appreciate.
You can find valuable traineeship opportunities here to attract employers and kick start your route to securing your qualifications.
Mix in some intermediate qualifications
An apprenticeship gives you the opportunity to learn on the job, and study at a college or training centre at the same time to gain your qualifications. It normally takes between two and four years to become a fully qualified professional chef this way.
As a level 2 apprentice, you could work at a sushi bar, a pizzeria, or practice in many different cuisines including Thai, Indian, and Chinese. There are so many possibilities to kick start your culinary education, all depending on how far you wish to go and the type of chef you want to become!
Level 2 diplomas include nationally recognised qualifications in Food Production and Cooking, or an NVQ diploma in Professional Cookery. Both of these qualifications come with an additional BTEC level 2 certificate in Hospitality and Catering Principles. You can find out more about what these qualifications offer right here.
These starter qualifications will often last 12 months, and will provide you with a foundation of cooking skills and techniques including preparing meat, shellfish, and pastries.
Wondering what apprenticeship would suit you?
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Spice things up with an advanced apprenticeship
If you want to take your cookery skills a step further, you can begin your level 3 qualifications after completing level 2. This involves more complex techniques, challenging recipes, and an in-depth study on what makes delicious food.
The roles that you can take up as an advanced apprentice include sous chef, line chef, and head chef, with the chance to cook in fine dining restaurants.
During your apprenticeship, you will need to decide what you are interested in doing as a specialty. Everybody has a different station in a commercial kitchen, with a hierarchy and a level of prestige with each position. There are titles for each specialty, most of them in French! Click here to find out what they are, and to help you decide which one you to specialise in.
University or an apprenticeship: which is tastier?
An alternative option to your advanced qualification is to enrol in a culinary school or get a university degree in the culinary arts. Although these also include a work placement, they are mainly focussed on education, where students learn without the full-on pressure that goes with any cooking job.
An apprentice, on the other hand, will have had real, comprehensive education of the cooking industry, and will know how to react to future high-pressure situations with an experienced head.
A university degree can also cost you as much as £9,000 a year, and top culinary schools can cost as much as £21,000 a year. An apprenticeship not only requires you to learn on the job, it pays too – with an average of £6.88 per hour in the hospitality sector. You could find yourself earning over £200 per week, starting your career without student debt.
In the end though, choosing whether to go to university or start an apprenticeship all depends on your palate!
Some of the world’s most famous chefs started out as apprentices. Find out which ones here.