Image via Flickr creative commons from Adam Freidin
Once you have decided you want to embark on a career in catering, you should know that experience is key. Qualifications of many sorts are important, but they will mean little to a prospective employer if not accompanied with some kind of workplace history.
Before you start scouring the internet for catering jobs from Blue Arrow, make sure you have thought about exposure to the heat and pressure of a working restaurant or café and getting a first-hand look at the responsibilities required.
A strong idea of the culture of kitchen work is essential; a budding chef should be prepared for long hours and numerous busy services.
Starting your career path early is also important as – although you may not need any academic qualifications to start work as a trainee chef – some employers will prefer you to have a good general standard of education including GCSEs in subjects like English and maths. Enrolling yourself in culinary education isn’t a prerequisite, though it can act as a good boost when attempting to get into a kitchen.
Some courses have links with local businesses who can offer internship positions. If this option is not available to you pursue it yourself. You can talk to the head chef at your local restaurant and ask if they would be willing for you to help out.
But you don’t need to worry about having it all meticulously planned out at once. Robert Pozen, of Harvard Business School, says you need not worry about some grand master plan and that you have no control over the particular trajectory of your career. So be patient.
Although he adds: “On the other hand, you can increase your probability of success by approaching your career with the right mind-set—one that recognizes that career planning is a continuous process that has to be actively managed. At each step in your career, you need to ask yourself: What can I do next that will maximize my options in the future?”
Mario Batali started his journey to the top as a dishwasher at a New Jersey pizza parlour. To become a chef you need a keen interest in food, even if that includes just being around it in the same kitchen while you wash the utensils. To get a taste, your first foray into restaurant work does not have to be prestigious.
Beyond experience you have to work your way up and prepare yourself for long hours. Establish at the very beginning whether or not you can commit to regular 16 hour days and swelteringly hot working arrangements. Once you start applying for jobs it is important to understand that you will start at the bottom. Even those with a culinary arts degree usually start with physically taxing work like peeling potatoes or processing meat.
“A chef’s job is very demanding,” explains Masterchef judge and Michel Roux Jr’s soux chef, Monica Galetti. “It’s physically tough – there’s lots of carrying and lifting – it’s hot and the hours are long and unsocial. You have to have courage and broad shoulders, and when it’s time to work you have to step up to the mark.”