So you Want to be a Chef

Apr 24, 2013 by

Every now and again I’ve been known to have an old rant on here.  This is one of those times.  So bear with me or head for the hills now.

There are so many food/cooking programmes on television every evening and most make chef jobs seem so glamorous and desirable.  I will ignore the fact that a large number of these celebrity chefs are not chefs at all, but that is another rant.

Masterchef contestants in particular seem to want to be chefs with a passion and often already have well-established careers they are willing to give up.  

On the other hand every day on Twitter I see and hear of restaurants and hotels moaning that they can’t get chefs.  So if there are so many jobs out there and so many unemployed – what’s the problem?

It is no secret my son is a young chef and I lived with a French chef for a number of years so I feel slightly qualified to comment.

Young chefs start off at the very bottom of the rung. Both in terms of salary and in the kitchen pecking order.   No harm in that; everyone has to learn.  However, the hours are long.  Longer than your nine to five and almost always unsociable.  When the world is off enjoying themselves at weekends, bank holidays and weekday evenings, chefs are hard at work.  

The pay is minimum to begin and for some reason the hospitality industry feels itself to be exempt from employment law and rarely pays overtime or time in lieu or indeed adheres to maximum hours worked in a twenty four hour period.

Until you make head chef or “executive” head chef, you are destined to work these long, unsocial hours for a pittance.  Of the hundreds who start out, few last and only a small handful make head chef.  In order to be a head chef you obviously must be able to cook, but you must also be able to budget and manage. Managing a team of younger chefs is a talent in itself and some, although great chefs are just not capable of it.

I have heard horror stories from a colleague of my son who made a recording of a well-known, highly celebrated chef hurling vile abuse at a young commis and throwing pans at his head over some minor error he made in plating up.  The stress was such in that particular kitchen that he could no longer bear it and left after a few weeks.

In one place my son worked the tips were never shared with the kitchen staff, but gobbled up by the waiting staff who in most cases worked less hours and were better paid than the kitchen staff.  When I heard this I decided to ask in future before leaving a tip in a hotel or a restaurant if it was shared equally.

If you know any older chefs particularly women you will notice that many look on average ten years older than they are and many, many chefs are burnt out before they reach forty.  One very decorated chef in France, who had moved on to training younger chefs told my son that that is the aim of most chefs as you just can’t keep up that work rate and stay sane.

But obviously there are pluses.  A great chef is an artist.  It is a terrific outlet for a talented, creative person and it can be very rewarding.  There is unbelievable camaraderie in a kitchen and as my ex partner said to my son “chefs are like the tinkers, we all know each other”.

So now do you still want to be a chef?  

Tags: Chefs Chef jobs Careers in hospitality Masterchef  Celebrity chefs

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  1. I still want to be a chef 🙂 What a beautiful article..

  2. Keep writing it – your enthusiasm is infectious 😉

  3. Thanks Maggie, if at least 1 person is reading it then I'll keep writing about it! L

  4. Thanks L and to you too. It's great you are enjoying the course so much. Best of luck with it and keep writing about it.

  5. Loved reading this Maggie. I think too often being a Chef is sold as a glamorous career when the reality is the opposite of that. I'd love to see real kitchens portrayed properly on TV! Best of luck to your son, L x

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