How Vegetarians Can Become Chefs

With an ever increasing number of people choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, it’s highly likely that potential chefs all over the country are being turned off from a kitchen career through fear that their lifestyle choices are a barrier to entry.

But is this an accurate assumption? Does being a vegan or vegetarian prevent someone from becoming a chef?

Vegetarian vibrant food full of flavour

Making these type of lifestyle choices need not prevent someone from enjoying a successful and rewarding chef career! In this article we shall break down the path to navigate to ensure our dream career is brought that one step closer.

Being a vegetarian or vegan is no barrier to becoming a chef. With the huge surge in popularity of vegetarian restaurants, there is a growing demand for chefs who are willing to take up the meat free challenge.

As we can see, living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle whilst also being a chef is absolutely possible, but there are some tricky areas we will need to navigate along our path.

Let us start by looking at the topic of obtaining a culinary qualificationOpens in a new tab..

Can Vegetarians Achieve A Culinary Qualification? 

It is true that in order to become a chef we do not have to have a culinary qualification, there is no governing body that assess whether a chef is competent or not; this is a task completed by each individual kitchen and head chef. However, a food hygiene qualification is necessary, but this shouldn’t pose any problems towards non meat eaters.

If as a vegetarian or vegan trainee chef we are willing to prepare and cook with meat, fish and animal products we will be able to pass the course and gain a culinary qualification. We do not have to eat the dishes that we prepare.

I wrote a whole article around becoming a chef which details the differences between a chef with a qualification and one without, which I shall Opens in a new hereOpens in a new tab..Opens in a new tab.

Although a qualification is not essential, I think it’s safe to say that most people entering the trade will want to become qualified. Therefor they would like to know if they can gain their cooking qualification without cooking meat.

The answer is, that at some stage in our course we will have to prepare and cook meat and fish dishes as part of the required evidence in order to obtain the qualification.

Obtaining a qualificationOpens in a new tab., such as an NVQ in professional cookery requires that we can demonstrate a set criteria of skills. Our entire training years are constructed of gaining experience on a certain area and then being able to evidence that criteria.

Once all the evidence has been gathered we are qualified. As an example, we have to evidence that we can make stocks; we will need proof we have made fish, vegetable and beef stocks.

There is no way around this experience or evidence gathering. However, that being said we do not have to eat the food that we prepare.

We must evidence that we can filletOpens in a new tab. and cook a sea bass, we do not then have to evidence us eating or tasting it.

Gaining a cooking qualification does not rely on tasting dishes to ensure they are perfect, although this is a large part of being a chef admittedly. The actual qualification is achieved by demonstrating that we can carry out the necessary cooking techniques.

If we are vegetarian or veganOpens in a new tab. and looking to start a cookery course, we should have a very open and honest chat with the college we will be attending. Finding a lecturer who is happy to help, and on board with our dietary choices, will make the process so much smoother.

We will gain an awful lot, by having a supportive lecturer, as opposed to one with an old school mentality who could in theory make the course pretty difficult for us (and not much fun).

So we can get around the issue by not trying the dishes that go against our values but does this have a large impact on our ability to be a great chef?

Do Vegetarian Chefs Have To Taste The Meat Dishes They Cook?

The fact of whether or not we should be sending dishes out from the kitchen without tasting them is another matter to consider.

Chef eyeing meat dish suspiciously

Vegetarian chefs will be required to taste all the dishes that they are cooking as it is the only way to ensure quality control. However, the kitchen which we choose to work in will have the greatest bearing on this.

Chefs should taste all the food they cook before serving it to the customer, simply for quality control purposes; to check it tastes delicious and that the customer will be happy.

Often times, chefs will have foods that they personally dislike (I wrote an article can chefs be picky eaters? Linked here)Opens in a new tab.

In these instances they will usually not try that particular food, or alternatively try it until they teach themselves to enjoy it.

If we do not wish to try any foods containing animal products this has a huge impact on the amount of food we are sending out from the kitchen without tasting. 

Most chefs can get away with not tasting one or two items on the menu, but if we are unable to taste a large portion of the menu then this is likely to be an issue. A chef sending out a large number of dishes without sampling if the cuisine is good, is a ticking time bomb.

However, fear not!

As eluded to earlier the restaurant which we choose to work in will have a huge impact on our career as a vegetarian or vegan chef.Opens in a new tab.

Can Vegetarian Chefs Work In Standard Restaurants?

Being a vegetarian chef that refuses to prepare or taste meat based dishes in a standard restaurant will be very difficult. It will require a very understanding head chef and a team that are willing to taste the multiple dishes for us.

If we are willing to try all the dishes then this is not a problem. As chefs, we are not expected to eat the food we cook but simply to try it. A vegetarian or Vegan chef who is willing to taste meat and fish dishes will have as successful career as anyone else.

The question also arrises of whether we will be happy to be prepping and dealing with the meat and fish products. A vegetarian chef will still be expected to complete any tasks Opens in a new tab.given to them which may include boning meat or filleting fish.

As a vegetarian we may find that a large part of our day in a standard kitchen is spent doing tasks which go against our values. I would suggest that this is not a good idea for anyone, and certainly wouldn’t lead to an enjoyable job!

Fortunately, in recent years there has been a surge in the number of vegetarian and vegan specific restaurants that have opened. As a meat free chef, these are the type of venues that we will most enjoy working in.

As meat free diets have become more popularOpens in a new tab., so to have the number of meat free restaurants and a desire to attract chefs who are happy to cook under these restricted conditions.

Many ‘ordinary’ chefs snub the idea of working in a place that does not serve meat. This is a huge benefit for the vegetarian chef as it means there is less competition and the kitchens are willing to pay more to attract the right chefs.

“The riches are in the niches” as the saying goes. By becoming a vegetarian or vegan chef we have access to an abundance of jobs that many other chefs are reluctant to take.

By cooking meat free meals to a high standard we are passing on our love of food and showing customers how tasty meat free meals can be.

This way, we are not only doing a job; we are spending time persuading others through our cooking, how socially responsible (and also tasty) reducing our meat intake can be.

We may even go on to open our own meat free food truckOpens in a new tab. or restaurant, the possibilities as a meat free chef in the modern era are huge!

What could be better than doing a career we love, which also aligns perfectly with our values?

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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