If you have a passion for food, recipes, and new creations, then being a chef may be the career for you.
A chef is expected to work under high pressure conditions in a restaurant’s kitchen. The duties of a chef include developing recipes and menus, executing quality dishes and working efficiently and precisely. Therefore, you will require some level of creativity, a good palate and be able to produce a finished product under tight time constraints. This career also works on a ranking system in the kitchen. You will earn more, the higher you rank. To climb up the rank, you will need to work your way up. Years of experience are invaluable in this industry.
The ranks of a kitchen are as follows:
Commis chef: the first-rung-of-the-ladder chef and in charge of many roles, such as preparing meat/fish dishes or chopping vegetables for all dishes.
Pastry chef: pastries, breads, desserts and a variety of sweet and savoury dishes.
Sous chef: assistant to the head chef and in charge of running the kitchen when the head chef is away.
Sushi chef: as the name suggests.
Chef de partie: in charge of a particular section of the kitchen – desserts, mains or any other area depending on the size of the kitchen.
Demi chef de partie: in large kitchens, this chef will assist the chef de partie in a particular section of the kitchen.
Executive chef: this is the top role in the kitchen and some kitchens have two, depending on the restaurant. You would only expect to take on this position after about a decade in the profession and it pays extremely well. It is also a highly pressurised job as you are responsible for everyone in the kitchen.
You will need to have completed the following at high school:
- English (Grade 10 level)
- Although, some institutions require you to have this subject at a matric level
- Hospitality Studies
- Physical Science
- Consumer Studies
The following institutions are highly recommended for chef training:
- International Hotel School
- The Swiss Hotel School
- Institute of Culinary Arts
Chef courses don’t have the strict requirements or the necessity for entrance exams that other courses do and passing your last year at school is enough. The minimum pass rate amounts to an APS of 28.
Qualifications range from a one-year certificate course to a four-year bachelor degree. Alternatively, a student can get an apprenticeship while studying at a culinary school. Once you’ve completed basic training, you may turn to more focused studies in a specific area. You can become as qualified in this field as you would like to.
You will need to check the following boxes:
- have a creative flair for food
- be well-organized and hygienic
- have the ability to take initiative and work unsupervised
- possess the ability to work in a team
- be able to work under pressure
- have a good memory and hand-eye coordination
The area you work in will depend on your culinary qaulifications as well as your practical experience. In general, you will usually work in one of the following spaces:
- Schools and universities
- Contract caterers
- Government departments
- Cruise ships
- Self-employed: consultant, own practice, freelance
Your working hours will range between a starting time of 7am/10am up to 7pm or until closing time. Staff are usually split into two shifts, but some restaurants will require longer/double shifts depending on staff availability. If you work outside the realm of a resaurant, the working hours may vary depending on the frequency of eating times, the number of guests, the type of cuisine etc.
Your salary will vary depending on rank, but compensation can range from as little as R5 000 per month to R45 000 per month if you’re an executive chef. The two main factors that determine compensation are where you work and your rank in the kitchen.
You expect to work long hours, including evenings, weekends and holidays. In general, you will be exposed to a stressful, pressurised environment as well as heat/cold from the equipment used. You can also expect continuous standing/walking, moderate to loud noise levels and working under time pressure. It is also an environment that allows you to create different dishes, explore combinations ingredients and cater to various cuisines.