Do you like food? Or, more importantly, do you enjoy working with food? Do you prepare meals for your family and think of yourself as a cook? Have you thought about working in a kitchen as a chef? Do you know the difference between a good cook and a chef? One of the skilled jobs that South Africa critically needs is a chef. This means that it’s an area of work that you should look into if you do enjoy working with food.
What is the difference between a good cook and a chef?
When you are a good cook you prepare and cook food well. The difference is that a chef is trained and skilled at cooking and works in a restaurant or in a hotel.
Chefs also get paid for what they do but the cook in the family often does it out of love and responsibility!
So what does a day in the life of a chef actually look like?
Don’t underestimate the length of a chef’s day. You may have more flexibility than working in an office but your hours are long and usually run from around mid-morning until quite late at night. They involve:
– Checking supplies and ordering food.
– Preparing specials for the day.
– Preparing food for the lunch, then evening service.
– Cooking food as the lunch or dinner orders come in. This is a very busy time for a chef as they are making dishes as quickly as they can and they need to be focused and be able to work under pressure. This stretch usually lasts between 3 – 5 hours.
– Cleaning the kitchen and preparing for the next day. Sometimes, the ovens are left on for roasts that take a long time to cook overnight. Fresh bread might also be baked late at night, ready for the next day.
So, as you can see, it’s a long day. Often it can be about 14 hours long and most of that time you are working on your feet. But the people who work in the environment are passionate about food and thrive on the challenges and stress that they experience.
What kind of person do you need to be to become an excellent chef?
– Be creative, especially with food
– Be passionate about food and be prepared to put in the necessary hard work
– Work well with a team
– Be able to regulate your emotions so that you can deal with stress and criticism
– Be detail orientated so that your dish is perfect in every way
– Have stamina to be on your feet all day
– Be a great leader if you become a head chef
How do you study to become a chef?
Technically anyone who is passionate about food and spends enough time practicing the culinary arts can become a chef. It is far better though to get some training as it gives you all the basics of what you need to know. Not only is it easier to get a job with training, it also fast tracks your career which is then enhanced with years of experience. Of course, it is the years of experience that, in the end, enable you to make quick decisions under pressure and become a great chef.
You should have at least a Grade 10 school-leaving certificate and Physical Science is a useful subject to have taken. Having a Grade 12 certificate with this subject is even better (although this is not compulsory to enter the field so don’t worry if you didn’t take it as a Matric subject). Once you meet the requirements for a diploma or degree course, many chefs choose to train for a 2-year degree and, together with extra work experience, are able to advance their career.
If you want to become an executive or head chef, it is best to get a bachelor’s degree in the culinary arts or a degree in hospitality. Once you have about 7 or 8 years of experience, you are in a position to become an executive chef.
Other people opt to start their career by working on the job and get trained by a chef in the establishment. Others take part in apprenticeship programmes and work their way up from there.
You can study to become a chef at the following institutions:
– False Bay TVET College: www.falsebaycollege.co.za
National Certificate: Hospitality and Catering Services N4 – N6
National Certificate (Vocational): Hospitality
– Cape Peninsula University of Technology: www.cput.ac.za
Hospitality Management: Professional Cookery; Food Technology
– University of Johannesburg: www.uj.ac.za
Biotechnology and Food Technology; Hospitality Management
– Tshwane University of Technology: www.tut.ac.za
Biotechnology and Food Technology
There is also a wide selection of culinary schools spread across the country. Do your research and make sure that they are accredited.
Here are a few of them:
– Capsicum Culinary Studio: www.capsicumcooking.com
– Prue Leith Chefs Academy: https://www.prueleith.co.za
– Silwood School of Cookery: https://www.silwood.co.za
– Institute of Culinary Arts: https://www.icachef.co.za
– South African Chefs Academy: http://sachefsacademy.com
– The 1000 Hills Chef School: https://thechefschool.com
There are several bursaries available for study in this field.
Some of these are:
– Capsicum Culinary Bursary
– SA Chefs Brian Montgomery Bursary Fund
– SA Chefs Bill Gallagher Study Assistance Bursary Fund
– Rand Water Bursary.
You can get more information about the hospitality industry from:
FEDHASA (the national trade association for the hospitality industry): https://fedhasa.co.za
SA Chefs Association: https://sachefs.co.za/
Tamica Mopp from FunDza, interviewed chef Zintle Jona. Here’s what she had to say:
What type of chef are you and are you working for a restaurant?
I recently graduated from Capsicum Culinary Studio Cape Town campus, I am not working for a restaurant as I have my own business. I work as a private chef, I do private events. My company is called ‘Zintle The Chef’. I have also recently started my own food range.
What do you enjoy about being a chef?
Food is my love language. The one thing that I enjoy the most when I prepare food for people is how their faces light up when they taste my food.
What is the most challenging part about being a chef?
The challenges of being a chef is competition. Food is like fashion, it has trends. You have to be up to date on the trends. Another challenge being a chef, when everyone has holidays, we’re working. It’s a normal work day for me because it is the most demanding.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
I personally love my African Cuisine. A plate of steam bread, some lamb stew and veggies. But I’ve got a two-year-old son, who’s become so picky on what he eats and he loves his pasta. So, pasta has been another favourite dish of mine.
What is your least favourite thing to cook?
My least favourite thing to do in the kitchen is baking. Baking is just too scientific for me, you miss one measurement of whatever ingredient and everything just becomes a flop.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I’ve always loved cooking. I’ve always loved hosting my friends. My friends used to know that on a Sunday they’re going to be at my house for lunch. My mom used to be a cook, we’d never buy birthday cake, she would always get up early and make it. She was a very good cook, and inspired me. I then realised I love cooking and I decided why not go into school, study it and make a living out of something that I adore.
Would you ever want to be on shows like Top Chef or MasterChef?
Of course! It’s a bit brutal but I think every chef would like to be in that atmosphere and get exposed to such things, there’s always room for improvement. I believe in my craft, but I know there’s always room for improvement, so going to those cooking shows with such phenomenal chefs known worldwide, it would be great!
Advice for anyone wanting to become a chef?
The culinary industry is a very broad industry. If you want to be a chef, you need to sit down, do your research, question chefs that you know and try and understand what line of work you want to do. Ask yourself do you want to be an executive chef, a food blogger, private chef, a food critic, there’s just so many. Know what you want, do your research, by the time you go to school; you know exactly what goals you have set yourself for and then you work towards your goals.
Becoming a chef is definitely a sound career choice. You can work, not only in restaurants and hotels, but in safari camps, catering, hospitals and holiday resorts. You can also start your own business as a chef and many do run their own restaurants.
Some of the world’s top chefs have gained celebrity status. Think of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and South Africa’s first chef to gain a Michelin Star (the top chef award in the world) Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Top South Africa chefs include Luke Dale-Roberts, Rueben Riffel, Michelle Theron, Zola Nene and Kenny Ngubane.
The world is wide-open for chefs and South Africa’s ‘uberchef, Bill Gallagher, believes that the cream of the country’s black chefs is rising to the top. “The sky’s the limit for black chefs,’ says Gallagher, the president of the South African Chefs Association and the executive chef of the Southern Sun hotel group.’ (https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/tourism-south-africa/travel/food/new-breed-of-top-black-chefs)