One of the most common questions we get asked at the School of Food is “how do I become a chef?”.
Admittedly, the answer is never simple. The truth is, there are many ways to become a chef. Some are more straightforward than others, some paths take longer than others, but at the end of the day, if you have the drive, passion, work ethic and love for food required of the industry, you will end up where you desire you be.
In this post, we’ll talk about some of the most common paths toward becoming a chef. Some are better suited to younger folk who have a lot of energy and time, while others might be better suited to slightly older folk looking for a change in career.
Whichever way you become a chef, it is never going to be an easy progression. Becoming a chef takes years of practice and commitment. It is always preferable to spend a large amount of time under a mentor chef, who continues to teach you while you work for him or her.
Culinary schools, or chef training programs, come in all shapes and sizes. They may be four year-long university degree programs, or 12-week certification courses. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may not be suited for a degree program. In the culinary industry, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many chefs look for commis chefs (or beginner chefs) who are interested in learning, listen well and are able to work in a quick, organized way. Knife skills and culinary technique will continue to develop throughout your career, though it is advised to learn beginner-level technique before entering a professional kitchen.
Some chefs begin their journey in the kitchens, starting as prep cooks or dishwashers before working their way up the culinary ladder. This, too, is a widely accepted way of becoming a chef, but perhaps suited to younger cooks who have the time and financial ability to slowly develop their culinary skills over time.
Many chefs take short courses, such as our Modern Skills for Modern Chefs program, to gain short-term culinary know-how before entering the industry at a beginner level. Chefs are widely accepting of this path because it gives new chefs just enough skill to enter the workforce and, once there, they can continue their training under the tutelage of a mentor chef.
Many chefs believe that anything over two years is a very long time to spend in culinary training – especially if there is little or no industrial work experience involved. Often, young chefs will develop a great understanding of food theory and will expect to begin their career in a higher position than the executive chef is willing to give.
If you are interested in starting your own small food business as opposed to working your way up through restaurant kitchens, a short course like Modern Skills for Modern Chefs is ideal for imparting a beginner’s skillset as well as tips for starting and maintaining your business. We include product development, high end dining, boutique catering, and community involvement through food in our curriculum. If you would like to learn more about this program, click here.