So, you’ve been working in a kitchen for a while and you’ve got the culinary bug, but how do you take the leap from pot washer to Sous Chef? You may have already put your hand to prep, you’ll know a little about seasoning and you may have some experience of a busy service, but when it comes to honing your skills there’s still a lot to learn.
Training to be a chef can be as intense and exhilarating as taking part in Gordon Ramsay’s Hells Kitchen – so we’ve taken inspiration from Hells Kitchen to put you through your culinary paces and find out just what training as a chef will involve.
‘An extraordinary palate’
Gordon Ramsay is obsessed with natural tasting abilities, and for good reason. To be a good chef it’s imperative that you have a good palate. Tasting your food, understanding seasoning and developing amazing flavour combinations are all vital parts of working as a chef. We are born with more than 10,000 taste buds, but as we age the numbers diminish. Smoking, eating too much salt and certain medications can also take their toll on your palate, so make sure you’re making the most of your most valuable asset.
Every episode of Hells Kitchen sees contestants tackle a busy dinner service. As a chef you’ll need to be able to work as a cohesive team and have top-notch communication skills. Although chef training will, of course, involve learning about food and technical skills, there will be a great emphasis on communication. Not only will you need to be a fabulous communicator, but you’ll need to learn how to deal with all the egos that you’ll find in a kitchen. Diplomacy and a big dollop of inner peace will get you a long way in a busy kitchen!
Punishment and rewards
Training as a chef isn’t easy, but with all the hardship will come great rewards. Not only will you learn about food, presentation, hygiene and sanitation, but you’ll also have the opportunity to master the art of wielding a kitchen knife with suitable aplomb – undeniably one of the most impressive parts of watching a chef at work. Other skills you’ll need to master may include inventory management, rotas, budgeting, ordering and menu planning. Being a chef is so much more than just cooking, and the right course can ensure you’re completely prepared for a life in the kitchen.
Taste it then make it
Of course, being a chef does involve food, too. During your training you’ll be taught all the basic techniques you’ll need, as well as learning about fusion foods, perhaps the basics of French and Italian cuisine, flavour combinations and the importance of excellent seasoning. Menu planning will be a big part of your life as a chef, and understanding how to create inspirational and delicious dishes that complement each other is a really important skill to master.
During your chef training you may have the opportunity to develop your own signature dishes, build menus, fine-tune your palate and work with other students to brainstorm creative culinary ideas. Your tutor will be on-hand to offer expert advice, as well as help you hone your creative flair.
As well as completing your basic chef training, vocational experience in a real kitchen is vital if you want to make the culinary arts your career. If you haven’t already, you’ll be encouraged to find work in a kitchen - be it as a prep chef, sauté cook or Garçon de cuisine (quite literally ‘kitchen boy’). Once you have completed your training and have some experience under your belt, you can start looking for work - a kitchen often has many hands on deck, so there’s bound to be an area that particularly interests you. Talk to your tutor about what you like most, and they can help you to hone your skills in that particular area.
Test your knowledge
Q. In a kitchen, who is more senior - a Commis chef or a sous chef?
Q. If you cut a vegetable “julianne” style, how will it look?
Long, thin strips like matchsticks
A: Long, thin strips like matchsticks
Q. What is a “paring” knife used for?
Rough chopping of vegetables
A: Intricate work
By Carrie Barclay