Most of us enjoy eating food; however, not all of us have the skills or inclination to cook for a living. Those who do are called chefs and culinary artists.
Obviously, chefs have to prepare delicious dishes, but they also need to know about the nutritional values of food and require strong administration and business skills to run a tidy, organised kitchen. Professional life in the kitchen isn’t to everyone’s taste, but for those who can stand the heat, a cookery or culinary arts course could be the perfect recipe for career success.
Students with an interest in becoming a chef or entering other food-related careers have a number of options, such as studying culinary arts at an Institute of Technology, or taking a PLC course in professional cookery.
Culinary Arts options include higher certificates, ordinary degrees and honours degrees. The CAO points required range from 150 to 300. Some courses include a language element, so candidates need to have studied a foreign language at Leaving Cert level.
Culinary Arts courses combine all elements of practical cookery tuition with academic subjects such as Food Science, Product Development and Entrepreneurial Studies. They also include work placements where you can test your skills in a professional kitchen environment.
Professional cookery courses tend to be shorter and more vocational. Fáilte Ireland offers a National Certificate in Professional Cookery that lasts for two years, with students spending six months at college and between four and six months in paid work placement each year.
Subjects studied include Classical, Global and Mediterranean cuisine, Pastry, Healthy Options, Buffet Presentations, Menu Planning, Nutrition and Food Safety. Upon completion, you can work as a third-year Commis Chef. To apply, you should contact Fáilte Ireland directly.
Options after Qualification
After qualification, most chefs take a job in a kitchen and work their way up through the ranks. Quick progression demands hard work, but it is possible to succeed. Trainees may gain recognition by taking part in national and international chef competitions.
Chefs have a rigid career ladder. There is the trainee chef, the commis chef (assistant), the chef de partie (section leader), the sous chef (deputy head) and the chef de cuisine (head chef).
Other career opportunities in the food sector include restaurant management, along with food promotion, writing, styling and product development. There are also postgraduate study and research opportunities in areas such as nutrition, food science and healthcare.
Chefs (also known as cooks) oversee the preparation and cooking of food and meals in kitchens. Larger restaurants or other establishments usually have teams of chefs who each have different responsibilities (e.g., desserts, vegetables), with a number of specialist chefs working under a head chef.
Junior chefs’ tasks and duties usually include cleaning the kitchen, unloading deliveries, and the preparation of food and vegetables, while senior chefs often have administrative responsibilities such as staff management, training, stock control and accounting.
If you are the head chef, your day could start at the market picking through fish and end when the restaurant closes, examining plates to discover what, if anything, customers didn’t like about their dinner.
Talented chefs can always find work in top restaurants, and many even open their own after they have gained some experience. This can mean taking care of the business side of the operation, meeting and greeting customers and keeping up to date with the latest eating habits and trends.
Personal Qualities & Work Environment
A love for food (and not just eating it) is necessary, as is a certain amount of artistic flair, the ability to stay calm under pressure, and good teamwork skills.
Chefs work in all kinds of places, mostly restaurants and hotels, but also pubs, cruise liners and schools. In general, kitchens are stressful, hot and noisy places to work and some head chefs run their kitchens like army generals. Long and unsociable hours, split shifts and working weekends are all part of the job. One positive aspect is the opportunity to travel and work in other countries.
New entrants to the kitchen may earn the minimum wage, while qualified chefs might start on around €25,000 a year. Head chefs can earn €35,000 – €60,000. Celebrity chefs, unsurprisingly, command much higher salaries.
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