We hear a lot about the restaurant industry in the popular media these days. The long hours, never getting a weekend off, the stressful – not to mention hot – environment, the low pay. You can understand why there is a chef shortage in Ireland when you consider all you’re hearing and reading in the news.
I became a chef by accident. I started culinary school at the relatively late age of 26. I already had a Bachelor’s Degree in politics and I was interested in journalism. I loved food, so I thought if I attended culinary school, I would be better equipped for a career in food journalism.
As it turned out, I was a good cook. I had a fairly sexist chef mentor in school who, upon hearing I was about to get married, insisted I do my externship (work placement) at Heinz Canada in their test kitchen. He told me that was the ideal career in food for a “family woman”.
This conversation irritated me, so I found my own externship at one of the fanciest restaurants in Toronto, Canada, where I was attending school. Even though I had no intention of being a restaurant chef, I thought that some proper industry experience could only be beneficial.
After my first day in a restaurant I couldn’t have known I’d fall in love with the culinary industry. After the first day, I felt like I’d never worked so hard in all of my life. Every muscle in my body ached after that 10-hour shift. I was surrounded by a bunch of cocky, loud, opinionated men. I felt like I had made a gazillion mistakes. But I kept going back. Eventually, I got hired.
There is so much I’ve grown to love about restaurant cooking. I love feeding people. I love making people happy through food. I love being able to do something well, like organize a work station, work through a prep list, even open a new restaurant.
I love being part of a team, and there is no group of work colleagues as tightknit as chefs working in a kitchen together. We shout and swear, it’s true. Sometimes we fight. We tell each other when we’re annoyed. But we also help each other. We push through each busy dinner service together and, at the end of the night, laugh and hug over a cold, well deserved drink.
Being a chef is wonderful. The industry, sometimes, is not so wonderful. As chefs, and as mentors, what Dermot and I strive to achieve with Modern Skills for Modern Chefs is to teach the difference between the hard work being a chef entails and the dark parts of the industry that are best avoided.
We want to change the conversation about the culinary industry. Instead of the dismal stories, we want to start sharing the inspirational stories. There are so many amazing chefs doing wonderful things in the Irish food scene – with this course, we hope to share this joy for the industry, with a more grassroots, holistic approach.
If you’re interested in learning more about Modern Skills for Modern Chefs, you can read a complete course description here.