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Blog at Chefify

Culinary Skills You Will Only Get From Working In A Restaurant Kitchen

Apr 18 2019 - 4:51pm
Do you want this role? Going to school is cool, kids.

The value of a good, solid education, particularly if you’re young and inexperienced with aspirations of working in high-end, white tablecloth restaurants is certainly not in question here. Culinary school will lay the foundations and teach you the skills that help you to work efficiently, with a good understanding of ingredients, hygiene, kitchen etiquette and procedure–depending on the institution and level of qualification, of course.

Culinary school is where you develop your repertoire, learn through trial and error, and figure out which part of the kitchen feels most like home to you.

But is school really where you cut your cheffing teeth?

Before you commit several years of your life to culinary school – not to mention the hefty price tag it comes with – it may be a worthwhile idea to get a taste for the real ambience of a high-pressure kitchen. A little bit of hands-on experience could really help you to make the right decision. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself, the catering profession in general and the reality of the dream you are pursuing.

The trouble with going straight into education is lack of familiarity with the industry and a poor grasp of your strengths and weaknesses. By getting some insight into kitchen life, you can sign up for college feeling a lit bit more focussed and reassured about the road you want to pursue.  

Undertaking any form of education these days is not only super expensive, but it also does not guarantee you employment. So if you’re going to go, you best be sure that your heart is really it. Otherwise, it’s a long time to dedicate to a qualification that will most likely start you off on a very low pay packet and may not live up to the romantic notions of career fulfilment you imagined.

Sounds harsh? It’s not meant to. The culinary arts fall within one of the most dynamic, creative and rewarding industries; getting some ground-level experience in the kitchen will undoubtedly affirm whether this really is your calling.

From cook to chef

If you start your training in a kitchen and skip the academic route to becoming a chef, you may be wondering whether you’re at a disadvantage; it may seem like the road isn’t as clear cut. But you’ll be pleased to learn that your progression is primarily determined by the skills you are able to collect and demonstrate on your way up to the next job on the ladder.

Culinary school will teach you how to cook, you will be exceptionally good at chopping, dicing, measuring, tempering, slicing, glazing; name the technical skill, and you will undoubtedly acquire it at a culinary institution. But the creative, visionary, intuitive skills, as well as the ability to manage people, take initiative and display the discipline to continuously strive for self-improvement – these are the characteristics that truly set your CV apart from the other contenders.

A realistic view of hours and conditions

It’s no urban myth that cheffing is not for the faint-hearted. Although working conditions in kitchens are vastly improving to meet modern human resource standards, the hours are never going to be hospitable or suited to every individual.

Not to put you off, but, according to a survey discussed in the Guardian:

  • half of all professional chefs in London regularly work between 48 and 60 hours per week;

  • 78% suffered an accident or had a near miss due to fatigue;

  • 56% take painkillers to get through shifts and more than a quarter were relying on alcohol; and,

  • 51% said they suffered from work-related depression.

Contemplating the demands of the industry will help you to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the role. By gettings some experience in a kitchen, regardless of the calibre, you will be able to gain at least a little bit of perspective. Cheffing most certainly requires a very unique temperament.

An exciting aspect of culinary school is the opportunity to continuously learn and master new skills then move onto the next part of your course. That can be incredibly stimulating and inspiring. But once you get to work in a professional kitchen, it’s very likely that you will be performing the same task or preparing the same dish day in and day out. If the establishment you work at has a set menu that doesn’t change often, you will have to be super zen about performing repetitive tasks.

Outside the curriculum

If you study any of the culinary greats (many of whom have had formal training), you will find that they often cite some or other inspirational mentor who has helped to shape their career. One of the many benefits of working in a restaurant kitchen is the opportunity to meet and work alongside professionals that will help to nurture your passion and pass on real hands-on experience.

Furthermore, there is definitely something about kitchen team camaraderie which is irreplicable in an educational environment. By learning to be accountable, to pull your weight and to show up daily, on time and ready to support your teammates is a defining feature of a true professional, one that will most certainly be brought to light by working in a kitchen.

The verdict

In the US, employment rates for chefs are set to increase by 10% in the decade between 2016 and 2026. The demand for professionals is therefore certainly not in question. How you choose to differentiate yourself in the job market, however, largely depends on the outcome you see for yourself. Formal education will give you the tools and experience to apply for work with greater confidence, and, depending on where you go to school, will help you build the professional networks you need to grow within the industry.

However, it’s important not to underestimate the crucial role of garnering a little bit of experience before you take the plunge. If you are able to get your foot in the door at an establishment that you respect and stand to learn a lot from, it may be worth your while to hang around and build your CV up as much as possible, regardless of the rank you are initially assigned.

There are many ways to acquire skills; you have to find what works best for you and your style of learning. After that, it’s all about consistency, whether you go to culinary school or start working your way up from the trenches – If your heart 's in it, you will certainly succeed.


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