Declaring a desire to become a chef can result in a mixed bag of responses from our loved ones. Families and friends have our best interests at heart but they can inadvertently point out all the negative aspects; often from a career they have never tried!
It is important to have a balanced view of the career we are going to embark upon, in fact the whole ethos of ChefWord.com is to provide a fair and balanced view of the catering trade.
Based on my experience spanning a decade long career I have put together this list of the top 17 reasons to become a chef. Armed with this knowledge, we will be able to counteract any argument as to why following our passion is a bad idea!
Sometimes when embarking upon a difficult decision we want to hear the good stuff, the reasons to be positive to counteract the negativity from well meaning, play it safers.
With a few surprising reasons, and listed in no particular order, there is sure to be plenty of food for thought here. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Few other careers offer the daily creativity which chef’s get to enjoy. Producing dishes that are exciting and unique is by no means easy, and certainly takes an artistic flare that is years in the making.
For those who enjoy being creative, the possibilities really are endless when it comes to cuisine; from simple food being plated up in imaginative ways, to producing the latest foams and infusion cooking.
Kitchens are known for being tough environments to work in. Occasionally a head chef or sous chef in a bad mood can make things pretty difficult for the lower ranked chefs. However, like all great movie plots, from adversity comes camaraderie.
A kitchen brigade is bonded by the amount of time it spends together and the high pressure situations they must face as a team. Add to this the social element, such as a few drinks after work, and the colleagues we spend 50-60 hours a week with become really good friends.
On a personal note I have made life long friends from the chefs I began my training with, for me and many others the camaraderie is one of the main factors which makes kitchen life so addictive.
When a Saturday evening service is in full flow, the checks are being called, the stoves are full with sizzling pans, and there is frantic activity everywhere. Every chef knows the adrenaline rush this creates.
Service time allows chefs to experience this excitement every night. In fact, winding back down again after a busy service can be especially tricky and perhaps explains why so many choose to have a drink after work to help slow their bodies and brains back down.
4. Changing Environment
Some careers dictate that a person must spend many years in the same office in order to work their way up the career ladder. Fortunately for chefs, their chosen career is not one of these examples.
Catering is a notoriously transient trade. Chefs move between jobs regularly, and far from harming their career prospects, it actually helps. The chance to experience new environments, and new ways of doing things, is highly prized by employers.
Challenging is an especially polite way to describe the daily obstacles that chefs are confronted with. The main cause of the challenges are the hard and fast deadlines; there is no option to ‘deal with that problem tomorrow’ in the world of catering!
Whilst some struggle in this environment, others thrive. The great thing about being challenged every day is that the job never gets tiresome, plus there is the opportunity to feel proud of our accomplishments every single day.
As a chef we get instant feedback on the ‘product’ we are creating. When we produce a dish it is served to the customer straight away. When finished the waiting staff will enquire as to how their meal was. The feedback is then instantly relayed to the kitchen.
Some customers are very generous with their gushing reviews and praise. It can be very rewarding during a long day to know that we have helped someone enjoy a special occasion.
No matter which part of the world you choose to locate yourself, there will always be people eating food, and a desire for chefs to cook. Some parts of the world are more common for us to travel to, but the scope of where a chef career can take us should not be underestimated.
Favourite haunts of chefs are those countries we can gain experience of radically different cuisines and develop it into our own unique styles.
For anyone who enjoys travelling, and the thought of working abroad for long periods of time sparks feelings of joy, a chef career is unmatched by any other.
8. Interesting characters
A catering career attracts people from all walks of life and all countries around the globe. Every chef is tied together by a passion for food so no matter the background we come from, we all have something in common.
The range of people we meet along our chef journey is vast. There are many colourful characters within kitchens and the ‘banter’ levels are often high!
“a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.”Source: Oxford online definition of subculture
Maybe it is the unsociable hours, or possibly that the trade attracts creative people, whatever the reason being a chef is seen as being part of a subculture.
It’s quite hard to define subculture, only that it is more than just a job, it is a way of life. From the by gone days of chefs such as Marco Pierre White, kitchens have managed to carry a certain romance that the general public finds alluring.
Actually being involved in this culture is amazing. For many, it is a chance to fit in and gain confidence where perhaps in mainstream society they don’t do as well!
10. Lots of Work
People are always going to need to eat, which is fortunate for chefs as this means people are always going to want someone to cook for them!
Whilst it’s fair to say that the amount customers going out to eat is dependent upon financial situations, a good restaurant is never short of eager customers. Even in the most difficult financial times, often a great restaurant provides a welcome release from the daily struggles some may be facing.
A good chef will always be able to find work, and if they have a good reputation, more often than not the job offers come to them without even having to go looking.
11. Get Famous (Possibly)
Ok, fair enough, this is probably a long shot but we never know. Famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge all started as ‘regular’ chefs working in kitchens.
Of course they were unique and had that special x factor that made them ascend to the levels they have reached, but it’s not out of the question to think that you too may become a household name via your cooking!
12. Skys The Limit
The career opportunities presented to chefs really are vast. All it takes is some dedication (plus lots of hard work) and the highest levels can be reached.
Some chefs choose to cook on yachts whilst sailing around the world, others choose to run their own restaurant and be master of their own destiny, the range of opportunities are endless.
There is a level playing field when it comes to a chef career. Everyone starts as a commis chef before progressing up through the ranks. It is one of the few careers where it is a case of what you know rather than who you know!
13. Life Long Learning
For those who love to learn new skills there are few careers as well suited as being a chef. The ever changing nature of cuisine means that there is always something new to learn, simply keeping up with the pace of change is a full time job in itself.
The first few years are incredibly busy in terms of the amount we need to learn. Just as we think we are getting the hang of it, we climb the career ladder and boom, there is a whole lot more that needs to be learnt again very quickly!
Every kitchen will do things differently. As a chef, if we find ourselves feeling like we are stuck in a rut, it is so easy to change kitchens and voila – a whole new set of dishes and skills to learn.
14. Vast Career Opportunities
We touched on this point earlier in our Sky’s the limit section, although this is similar there are a few differences; namely the amount of jobs in the market at any one time!
Readers can take a look for themselves at any job website for the area they live in, there will always be lots of chef vacancies being advertised.
The advantage of this to us chefs is that when we want to change jobs we don’t have to wait around for months on end for a position to become available, chances are there will be plenty of opportunities when we start looking.
15. Low Barrier To Entry
Not every one is cut out for academic learning, some people simply don’t enjoy that fixed way of studying. The great thing about a career as a chef is that the requirements for getting our first job are very low.
It is unlikely you will be turned down for a trainee chef position for not having enough academic qualifications, instead head chefs look for passion and enthusiasm as a determining factor for who they hire.
That’s not to say that qualifications or basic skills such as English and maths are not useful; they certainly are as we climb the career ladder. However these are skills which can be taught in a kitchen environment which is far more conducive to learning for many.
Whether we have a degree, or struggled in secondary school, a career as a chef is wide open for those with the right attitude and passion for food.
16. Structured Environment
Those that do well in a more structured environment find they are well suited to the organisational structure within kitchens.
Often on ChefWord I refer to a kitchen position as a rank, because this is how it is in reality. Every chef has a position within the structure. Each position comes with a clear set of guidelines as to our responsibilities and expectations.
Discipline levels are often high in kitchens as there are a lot of creative personalities (and dare I say strong egos) contained within that need to be kept under control. This high discipline actually suits some people as they work better knowing exactly what is expected of them.
There is no behind the back gossiping for chefs, if someone is displeased with our actions they will address it directly before moving on just as quickly.
17. Fun Environment
Having said that kitchens are structured they are also a really fun place to work. There are often times when ‘banter’ and kitchen antics are in full flow; it is always good humoured and great fun!
The general atmosphere among chefs is one of light hearted ribbing, and practical jokes. Kitchens are not customer facing positions and we can all let our hair down a little, not being overly concerned with the airs and graces needed by front of house staff.
I have left this point to last but it should not be underestimated. This is one of the fundamental reasons why chefs are able to tolerate such long hours work; because work is actually a fun and an enjoyable place to be.
To Sum Up
That’s my list of 17 reasons to become a chef, I hope readers have found them helpful and are now armed with a wealth of responses for anyone who tries to put a dampner on our catering fire!