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I want to become a chef in the UK


kutsu
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So, long and short of it:

I'm 23, have no qualifications outside of GCSEs, currently in a souless job, but it pays well (circa 30k for 35 hours)

I'd give anything to learn to cook professionally and to go off and work in a michelin-starred restaurant. It's all I dream about (well, that and Girls Aloud).

I cant justify giving up work as the mortgage people wouldn't take too kindly to it, but could take a dip in wages.

If my end gold was working in a 1 michelin star place, permanently:

a) am I too old to start from scratch to get to that level?

b) what is the best way of getting the skills needed to get there

c) am I crazy?

help!

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Take a leave of absence from your current job and go to work in any kitchen you can find, in any position available. Or use your vacation to do this. It will fan the flames on your fire or slam the door shut on your romance with chefdom. Seriously, you would learn a lot just by washing dishes somewhere. It's agonizingly difficult back breaking work. You could even do it on weekends or something.

1. No you are not too old.

2. Just start doing it.

3. Yes you are crazy but that's to your advantage.

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kutsu,

right, the first thing to do is get off your computer and ring some restaurants, preferably ones you like, and ask if you can work in the kitchen for a day or a week. This will really let you know what it is like.

You need to be serious about this, you are trading a 35 hour week for a 60 hour week for at most two thirds of the pay. On top of that you will probably have some miserable sod like myself shouting obscenities at you and making you scrub dark corners of the kitchen. The hours will cause tension in all your relationships both with your partner and your friends as you will often have to work late nights and weekends. Your skin will get bad from the stress and the sweat and at first your feet will ache constantly!! :shock:

On the up side, if you really love cooking, it can be very rewarding working in a top restaurant and you will learn more about food than you can imagine. If you are really dedicated things do get better as you get input into the menu and the pay goes up (slightly)

Good to find out where you live then we can start giving recommendations. In london good to try slightly more civilised places (but by no means easier) like river cafe or st john.

I know this all sounds a bit harsh but i have seen many people like you come and go from the kitchen, all convinced that they can hack it. you just need to make sure it is for you before you dive in.

Good luck,

if, after all this you really want to take the plunge, give me a call

matt

Matt Christmas.

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"Crazy" is perhaps not the best way to put it. "Impractical" would fit, perhaps, or something along those lines. It's not a pragmatic choice for most people, that's for sure. Having gone into cooking at 40, I can certainly tell you you're not too old!

Practical questions...can you budget around the ramifications of losing something like 40% of your income? Can your existing relationships work around the loss of about 90% of your free time? How many 16-18 hour days of shit and abuse will you tolerate before you say "To hell with this" (what's the UK version..."sod this for a lark"?)? Because many chefs will deliberately serve you an extra-large portion of Shit and Abuse with all the trimmings, just to determine how serious you are.

Having said that, I'm still enjoying myself, and you may too. But it's really, really hard work.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Just in case you are put of completly, there are establishments of all kinds where you don't work 17 hour days 6 days a week, where you don't get paid a pittance and don't get treated like shit. It does a disservice to our industry that it has been portrayed as above by some and makes it that much harder to recruit good people who view us as unprofessional becasue of this sort of treatment.

I say follow your dream - life is too short not to live them.

pb

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Wow, thanks for all the replies, guys (poet and I didn' know it!)

Sorry I haven't responded, I've been stuck in view-only mode at work.

Firstly, the information in here (both positive things about the trade and the negative) is brilliant info, I am all for being bollocked when things are going wrong, and I'm not work shy at all. I appreciate that 15+ hour days are possible, but if it is something I love, I'd do that over 8 hours of literal boredom each day.

What's the standard route into a kitchen, does it have to be NVQ?

I appreciate folks have said "ring a kitchen and ask" but surely I cant do that without foundations or certain qualifications?

Thanks for all the help

Cheers

John

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of course you can ring and start from the bottom, forget nvqs, i would teach you more in the first week. If you really feel you need a qualification then i recommend a full time one year course such as leiths or cordon bleu, but at at least £10k for the year you need to have some savings.

when someone rings me with no experience i would want a love of food, determination and a realisation that they really are starting from the bottom and that they will not be jamie within six months!

(we work four days a week)!!!

Matt Christmas.

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"Jamie in 6 months"? i would be looking for someone with a little more ambition! :raz:

The only thing that NVQs show is that you were prepared to stick a course for it's duration(not a bad thing), but if someone older approached me, it would be a matter of come for a day, if you like it, come for a week.Most kitchens are pretty open to new boys if they have the right attitude.The ones that close the door on you, without even letting you try it for a day, are probaly not the sort of kitchens you would want to work in.

best of luck.

PS Peeling spuds whilst watching the rest of the kitchen work will teach you a lot!

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ask if you can work in the kitchen for a day or a week. 

I would strongly recommend that you get a weeks worth of experience before you make any life changing decisions. Its the only way to really understand what kitchen life is really like. You'll know then if you can hack the repetition and the physical demands.

After a day you'll be buzzing like mad and think "this is the life"; at the end of the week you'll proabably be very knackered indeed and possibly even a bit bored and frustrated. Expect to be chopping tomato concasse, cleaning spinach, prepping veg and running to the walk in every five minutes for whoever you're working with.

Once your allowed to assist with service, then things get much more interesting and exciting and that could happen very early on depending on your ability and where you end up working.

I'd also try a few different types of establishements - Michelin, big brasserie, small neighbourhood restaurant. They're all very different experiences and you may find yourself more at home in one style than another.

Edited by Andy Lynes (log)
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Just adding to the previous comments really...

Getting some work experience is an absolute must, as is making sure that the experience matches the type of restaurant you want to work in full-time. When I was at uni, I built up this elaborate dream of becoming a chef. I worked in a 1* restaurant over the summers, having just picked up the phone and asked. I did it for free though...

Anyway, I loved it and decided to get myself a proper job after graduation. I wrote to Le Gavroche, did a trial day and got a full time job... and hated it! Busy central London kitchens are completely different, so you need to know what style you are happy with for the long run.

Oh... I work in The City behind a desk these days! Turns out finishing the economics degree wasn't a bad idea!

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Thanks for all the replies guys and gals, sorry I haven't responded back, busy at work :(

So, there's nothing wrong, per se, with just rining a kitchen to ask for a few days work?

In terms of going from commis to line chef, is it down to experiance purely?

Lastly, what equipment would I need to bring for a week's work - knives, whites, apron?

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just choose a few nice places in your local area cooking the type of food you are interested in and offer them your services for a weekend, or a few evenings a week. And don't expect the progression to be structured - if you are eager, a quick learner and capable you will be given the opportunity to take on additional responsibility. I quickly went from prepping to cooking main course vegetables to order to starters. This was after a few months working evenings and weekends in a respected country dining pub whilst doing my normal job.

No kit needed, they'll have it all.

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If you are just going to help out i wouldn't expect you to bring any equipment, just yourself and sensible shoes. Longer term knives are a must. We would provide whites and aprons but not all establishments will so ask before hand.

Like i said get off the computer, ring some places and report back.

matt

Matt Christmas.

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Dont swallow all this macho-man bullshit about being screamed and shouted at...it is pathetic,totally unnecessary and contrary to what some may say it does not make you cook better..

If you cannot teach someone to do things properly and/or the way you want it done without resorting to tantrums then you are the problem not the person you are training...and yes I have worked at the sharp end both in the UK and Europe for 25 years so I do know what I am rattling on about..

The 16 hour days should also be put into the myths and legends category....neccesary?...during the pre-opening/opening phase ..unfortunatley yes..afterwards? there having a laugh at your expense.... Expense being the operative word as the Exec. Chef will be on very big bucks indeed and will generally be paid a nice juicy bonus to keep staff costs low.....

NVQ's?...well I am Swiss trained so cannot comment..however all knowledge is usefull and if you can get in somewhere decent such as Westminster/Kingsway you will pick up a lot...cost you a lot less than cordon-bleu and Leiths as well which cater mainly to the daughters of the Chelsea/Notting Hill/Kensington Ladies-that-lunch set. Prettier looking diplomas mind.. :wink:

Ring around a few places and offer to come and work for a week or so for free...you will get to see what sort of style of food and more importantly what side of the kitchen you like..sauce/larder/pastry or a bit of everything..

Edited by confiseur (log)
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the reason i mention leiths or cordon bleu is that they are full time one year courses which might suit somebody slightly older with less time to play with. You will also get slightly better ingredients to play with for your money. The daughters of the chelsea set is unfortunately still partly true but the teaching will be good and you take from a course what you can. Leiths also runs a wset wine diploma that is pretty comprehensive.

I would lay money on the fact that in at least 90% of michelin starred restaurants in london you will work long hours and be shouted at, but you will learn tons more than being in some wishy washy hotel with an exec chef working an early when what you really want to do is see through to service all the hard work you have been doing. IMHO you tend to get shouted at because the chef is passionate, yes there are bullies out there and nobody should stand for it. I am certainly not a bully but i get bloody upset in the heat of service when somebody doesn't listen or has their head in the clouds.

Ultimately i think you will learn more and more quickly by being thrown in at the deep end, as the wonderful gordo puts it "get some balls" !!!!

Matt Christmas.

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ChefMatt has made some very good points; you wiil work long hours in any michelin starred kitchen, i should know I did it for 5 years. You will also get bollocked, a lot. This is mainly due to the fact that the standards are very high and, as yet, you will not have the experience to do everything as exactly as a chef who has been at it for years. The pressure for any chef at this level is immense; don't let any of this put you off, it's all part of the buzz of being at the top of your proffesion.

I agree with the comments made about you just going and working somewhere for a day or two, the longer the better. If you can get your foot in the door of a decent place, if you work hard and have a passion and absolute love for it(it will mean constant strains on relationships and friendships, but if it's your first love....) they will probably offer you a job at the end of it; or at least point you in the right direction.

It is not always 60 hour weeks but if you are used to 35 then you better get some comfy kitchen shoes!

Good luck!

Edited by alex chef (log)
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Evenin' all, a what a fine and pleasent evening this is too*

Well, a CV hath been drafted, and emailed to a couple of 1 star Mich places, on account of me ringing to speak to the kitchens and simply being pointed in the direction of emailing the reservations line.

I think I'm going to put some in the actual post, maybe they will get through a bit better.

I'm still on the search for a couple of days/weeks here and there to break myself in as it were (oooerr missus) so any pointers in the right direction are appreciated.

Still desperately want to do this, I've applied to a couple of dodgy local pubs (there's no other type in Stoke on trent) to get some weekend experiance to stick on the CV; maybe that would make me more desirable.

Time to keep on trying!

*I'm lying, it's pissing it down.

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is a move to london out of the question?

you would have loads more choice and generally everywhere is that much busier so the kitchens tend to welcome someone to come and have a look whilst peeling baby carrots and dicing tomatoes!

Matt Christmas.

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Well, I live with me better half and daughter (own a house, not renting unfortunately) but I'm happy to work away during the working week (whatever days that may be) - it's the modern way of life!

Plus, her in doors would get to watch Eastenders a bit more often, so she ain't complaining!

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  • 2 weeks later...
the reason i mention leiths or cordon bleu is that they are full time one year courses which might suit somebody slightly older with less time to play with.  You will also get slightly better ingredients to play with for your money.  The daughters of the chelsea set is unfortunately still partly true but the teaching will be good and you take from a course what you can.

I am in a similar position to the original poster, and considering a change of career to move from the computer to the kitchen. I was looking for a short course by way of introduction, and considered Leith's and Cordon Bleu. After more looking around, I found a course that suited me better (less time commitment): a one-month cookery diploma at Ashburton Cookery School.

There were a wide range of people on the course: a couple of prospective career-changers like myself; some already working as chefs (one on a luxury yacht); some wanting to set up their own business in catering; and one person there just for fun. The teaching was excellent, focussing on good quality local ingredients, and working every day towards a tasting menu in the evening. A vast amount was covered in the four weeks. The main drawback for someone considering a career as a chef was that it was in a teaching environment, not a real kitchen. The two days' work experience were great (and one of the main reasons I opted for this course). I spent two days with a friendly team in a hotel on the edge of Dartmoor.

Two people who completed the course are now working in professional kitchens. I am proceeding more cautiously, and would like to gain some more real-world experience before making the leap from my comfortable 9-5 job, but I'm hoping to get a work placement in the autumn.

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