6 Things Working in a Professional Kitchen Can Teach You

6 Things Working in a ProfessionalKitchen Can Teach You-3.png1. To Be On Time

If you’re not on time in the kitchen you will quickly lose the respect of your co-workers. Being on time is a non-negotiable, in fact, it is common to hear the phrase “15 minutes early is considered on time in the kitchen”. Follow this rule and you’re on your way to being a decent cook.

2. To listen properly

If you don’t learn to listen properly in the kitchen, you’re not going to survive. Chef’s are short on time and short in temper, so they will only tell you what to do and how to do it once. Listen carefully, to all of the instructions. I find repeating back the instructions helps me get it right. If Chef says, “Get three carrots, one daikon, three chilis. Thinly julienne carrots and daikon. Finely dice chilli.” – I will respond with “three carrot, one daikon julienne, three chilli fine dice. Yes, Chef”. This allows you to confirm with Chef that you have heard the instructions properly. It allows Chef the chance to correct you before you’ve made any mistakes. It also helps you to remember the instructions properly. I find most chefs won’t mind you doing this as an apprentice.

3. To cook

Pretty obvious, but learning how to cook is an essential life skill and there’s nothing better than learning how to do it properly. From making the perfect fried egg to the creamiest mash potato, life in the kitchen will equip you with life-long cooking skills.

4. To respect authority

The kitchen is a tough, militaristic environment. As a kid I questioned authority constantly, I think it can be a healthy thing. But in the kitchen, especially as an apprentice, the only option is to respect those above you (i.e. everyone) and to obey orders.

5. To think for yourself

Sometimes in the kitchen, you will find yourself standing at a bench, alone, wondering what the f*** to do. Everyone is busy, you don’t dare interrupt. What do you do? Any chef will tell you, the last thing you want to do is nothing. The old adage goes “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean”. When in doubt – clean! But look for other things to do. What jobs do you know how to do and that you know need doing. Do sauce bottles need refilling? Do it. Does the cool room need cleaning? Do it. You’ll find that as you get on with these self assigned tasks, chefs will find you to do other work. Don’t worry, that’s what you want. To always be busy and to not need babysitting every second of the day.

6. To be a perfectionist

Good is not good enough. Okay is terrible. Whatever you do strive for perfection. Don’t cut corners and if you did it wrong, do it again. Work clean, work fast and never give up.

 

Apprenticeship Countdown – 0 days to go

It’s the night before my new apprenticeship at Crown Melbourne!

On Friday I went to pre-induction, to be fitted for my new uniform and to get my ID photo taken (always an awkward moment for me). I bumped into R, who I’d met during the interview process. R is a girl in her early twenties who has way more experience than I have in the kitchen. When I’d met her we’d had a giggle, and I admired how calm she seemed during the cook (a part of our interview). I was hoping that we’d both make it through the group interviews – and we did!

With pre-induction done, a million forms filled out and a friend made, I’m super excited to get to the actual food part. We will be rotated through various restaurants on a six-monthly basis.  For my first assignment, I will be working at Mesh Seafood Buffet.

I’m stoked. It’s a lovely casual dining outlet that caters to seafood lovers. Now I’ve never been a seafood lover. I find the insect-like features to be creepy. But as I’ve grown up I’ve challenged myself to eat foods that, as a very fussy child, I had refused to try. So I’ve started eating prawns and oysters and, my god, I’ve been missing out. Because of the fussy eating and the insect-phobia, I haven’t really adventured into the world of seafood properly – this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn! I’m thinking that the next six months might have a lot of seafood related posts.

Well, that’s it for this post. I need to get a good night’s sleep before day one of induction. Wish me luck for my first day! 

 

 

Chefs Apprenticeship: Countdown to Start Date

I’m super excited to be starting my apprenticeship at Crown Melbourne in only three days! 

On Friday I will attend a pre-induction and then from Monday through Wednesday the actual induction will be held. During that time we are measured for our uniforms, given thorough general training and allocated our given ‘outlet’ for the next six months.

I have no idea which outlet I’ll be allocated. If you’ve been here before, you’ll know I’m crazy about all kinds of food. Crown has an insane range of restaurants with premium offerings like Nobu and Rockpool, casual dining like Emporio Pizza and Pasta, as well as two food courts. There is also room service to its three hotels as well as private dining options.

Naturally I’m dying to be placed in Nobu or somewhere else fancy but as a first year apprentice perhaps they’ll ease us in slowly with six months in casual dining first. Who knows what’s to come! I’ll be happy wherever I end up.

I can’t wait to share all the things I learn as an apprentice. Join me on my apprenticeship journey by clicking the follow button below.

 

Where Are All Our Apprentice Chefs?

Australia has a chef shortage. The completion rate for Aussie apprentice chefs hovers well below 40% and the government is tightening the rules for foreign food workers to contribute their skills. This is bad news for the hospitality industry, but it does make for a good time for an aspiring chef to get into the biz.

Where have all our

What’s caused this chef shortage? Some say lazy millennials – I say that’s an easy cop out for older chefs who don’t know how to motivate and teach.

It’s a tough gig

  • Wages are low. Chefs earn the lowest of all trades. The hospitality industry does not lend itself to the same high wages as, say, the building industry does. It’s relatively easy to get a better wages elsewhere. Apprentices under 21 earn significantly less than apprentices over 21. This can add stress to young apprentices living away from home.

 

  • Conditions can be challenging. The kitchen is a tough place to be. It’s hot, cramped and you’re standing on your feet for 12+ hours a day. There’s constant risk of burns, cuts and slips. This can scare away potential new recruits and is probably where the ‘lazy millennial chef’ myth comes from.

 

  • MasterChef made it look glamorous. MasterChef took Australia by storm. I’m not ashamed to say it was what piqued my interest in food at the age of 19. I know that MasterChef is a fantasy land where magical chefs teach normal humans to rise to culinary God-like status – or something like that. A real kitchen is nothing like the MasterChef one, in that most of what you do, especially when you start out, will be monotonous or just plain stressful. It is up to the individual to find joy in hours of potato peeling, dish washing and chopping chilis (with gloves!!).

 

  • The time it takes to become a chef is also misrepresented by MasterChef. There are various ways to become a chef – for me, ideally, I will spend three years in an apprenticeship at Crown, I will then travel to France and Italy to work in restaurants and eat good food, then I’ll return to Australia to work as a line cook for a number of years. Then, depending on level of hard work, skill and a bit of luck, I’ll become a sous chef – only then can I call myself a chef. Until then I am a cook – but MasterCook doesn’t sound as good does it?

 

  • Sick days and holidays are a challenge to get off. Many chefs brag of not having a day off in years. But this does add to the stress of the job. Chefs feel pressured to cook through their sick days and this can prolong poor health (and pose a potential risk to diners).

457 Visas – Fear of foreigners adding to chef shortage

The circus in Australian Parliament has only added to the shortage, as tightening rules around our temporary working visas, called 457 visas, are pursued.  These visas were granted mostly to chefs and cooks, who came from across the globe to toil in our kitchens and bring us exemplary dining experiences. The decrease in supply of good international chefs and cooks will force restaurants to consider lower skilled staff. Food is a global tradition we all share; the borders of cuisine around the world should remain open. The Liberal (conservative) government is effectively dismissing the importance of an international food culture by ignoring the international community and its pool of talent.

So what’s the solution?

The next generation of Aussie chefs

New apprentices offer a potential solution. As a younger generation of chefs rise up in the ranks of the kitchen there is potential for change. We each have the opportunity to observe the challenges a newcomer experiences in the kitchen, and then when we are in a position with more responsibility, try to make it a little easier on the next generation. As we rise in rank in the kitchen, we can change things. Something as simple as communicating clearly and respectfully rather than shouting or mumbling (mumbling kills me) can make all the difference to a new apprentices success or failure.

If I am lucky enough to own a restaurant one day, I will aim to foster a positive environment for the kitchen staff – one that focuses on team work, collaboration, work-life balance, creativity, passion and excellence. I don’t think these things are impossible; there is room for a reformation in the kitchen. Some naysayers may naysay away my ideas as silly and fantastical. To that I say, just watch me.

Sorry, I had to.

How to improve the apprentice chef completion rate

Apprentice chefs, especially in rural areas, are often left with little support throughout their apprenticeship. Some peers say they were forced to pay for training themselves, whilst others are employed for months on end without ever signing to a training provider. These are serious issues. Employers need to be held accountable. All apprentices should be given impartial training support from their first week of employment.

We also need to increase the incentives offered to employers and apprentices. A strengthening of the network of apprentice chefs and professional chefs across Australia would provide an incentive for apprentices to continue their training. Financial support for employers and apprentices needs to be increased to ensure apprentices can afford to train and employers afford to offer training.

We need to open our borders to chefs and cooks from across the globe

Rather than tightening the rules surrounding temporary work visas, we need to provide incentives for chefs and cooks from across the globe to spend time working in Australia. The international culinary community should be collaborative, exchanging talent, ideas and traditions. The influx of workers would lessen the strain on the hospitality industry.

Now’s the time

Because of the shortage, now is an excellent time to jump into a culinary career if you are able to in Australia. Provided you are passionate about food and willing to work in tough conditions, a career in food can be truly rewarding.

What do you think about the chef shortage? How can we attract more apprentices to the industry? Leave a comment below. 

5 Movies To Watch if You’re Obsessed With Food

Ratatouille

I love this gorgeous Disney tale of a rat who loves to cook. It is a charming movie that features valuable lessons about cooking in a professional restaurant. The art of a French Brigade style kitchen is beautifully illustrated. This stunning movie teaches us that “anyone can cook”. An encouraging message after a set back or loss in the kitchen. And that night-time Paris scene, oh my!

ratatouille

Julie and Julia

A story of two women from different era’s and their shared obsession with cooking. In this movie based on a hit novel, Julie attempts to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The challenge, to cook 524 recipes in 365 days. This movie will inspire you to jump into the kitchen and start cooking the best way – the French way.

bonjourmemejulieandjulia

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

A magical documentary that is full of the wisdom and passion of Japan’s master of sushi Jiro Ono. Jiro teaches us about dedication to an art, dedication to the highest quality ingredients and dedication to a lifelong study of your craft.

Jiro also gives us an excuse to spend our pay checks on fine dining and beautiful food, saying “in order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food”. Jiro shows us what hard work, passion and talent can lead to.

jirodreamsofsushi.jpg

Haute Cuisine

A very French film, Haute Cuisine gives as a peep into the kitchen of the former President of France, President Francois Mitterand. The value of this film is the food. Watch the cooking scenes and fall in love with French Cuisine.  The film itself is a little odd, like many French films but trust me this film will make you hungry! It will also teach you about the tough world of French brigade-style cooking, this is our heritage as cooks. Appreciating where the modern kitchen has come from can only serve to elevate our own food.

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Food, Inc.

This documentary makes us consider where our food comes from and asks us to question the ethics surrounding food production and consumption. Food Inc. is important because chefs and food lovers need to ponder the ethics of their food practices and, if any practice is found to be questionable, take action to change it. This can be difficult for an apprentice chef as it is unwise and disrespectful to question the way a Head Chef runs their kitchen. But you can start by paying attention – where is waste going? Where is the food coming from? Is it sustainable? What would you do differently? Take note of these things. One day, if you work hard enough, you will have the opportunity to do things a little differently. In the mean time you can make a difference with small steps like saving all your scraps to make stock. Food, Inc. highlights the important responsibility chefs have to serve ethical food to their customers.

food inc.jpg

What food movies are you obsessed with?

I Asked Reddit For Advice on Being an Apprentice Chef – Things Got a Bit Silly

I recently shared my blog on Reddit, along with a question to the chef community – “what advice do you have for a newbie apprentice chef?

I got heaps of helpful feedback. A lot of the advice reflected the military background of traditional kitchens – work hard, respect your superiors, never stand around bored, show up early, work clean and communicate well. It is important the kitchen crew abide by these rules. When you don’t have organisation, dedication and discipline across your team, things start to fall apart.

Another comment said, “Focus on work, not blogging”. This comment was followed by a heated discussion about whether I, an apprentice chef, should blog or not. This discussion quickly spiralled into a tired ‘millennials are spoilt and don’t know anything” type tirade. Things did get a bit silly.

To be fair, the rules for this particular Subreddit are as follows: “If you are not a chef, please realize you are amongst a group of highly sarcastic, profane, and vulgar people. This is the nature of the people who work in the business. Downvotes based on this are highly frowned upon.”

I’m cool with all this – it’s the same in the kitchen, don’t expect people to coddle you or censor themselves. Anyways, check out the conversation here and let me know what you think.

Respecting Your Ingredients

Baby Carrots. In season. Chop tops off. Leave a few centimeters of stalk. Wash carrots in cold water. Gently peel. Place in a bowl of ice water.

Using beautiful ingredients in a respectful manner is the key to creating good food. You need to be thoughtful. Say you find beautiful baby carrots at the markets and you know you have to cook with them. How do you decide on a recipe or method of cooking them? Do you roast them, boil them, steam them? Do you drench them in sauce or do you leave them bare? Do you chop them up and chuck them in a soup? What do you do with the scraps? Save them? Use them for stock? What is the right way to cook these carrots?

Being thoughtful, you might decide to roast them, drizzled in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds and serve them as a side. You might compost the scraps or save the peels for a veggie stock. You might blanch them or steam them. You might serve them on a bed of mashed potato with a side of gravy. With thought and care you can serve incredible, simple ingredients easily.