The Making of a Chef

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Knowing how the kitchen and restaurant works is vitally important to becoming a chef. But be warned, this first job might include the most mundane things, including washing dishes and taking out the trash. However, the exposure to professionals in the kitchen is what matters, and over time a fresh new chef will work their way up the ladder to the more appealing tasks.

High on the Hog

This time toiling in the trenches of kitchen duty will help answer the big question: Is this what you really want to do? In order to move on to culinary school, a high school diploma will be required.

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It might also be required by employers, who could prefer to hire only those who have already shown they can stick with a dream and complete it. Remember that even most apprenticeship programs require a high school diploma or GED to get in, so earn this very important diploma. Culinary schools take one to four years, depending on the program. Often those who have earned their culinary degree can quickly earn positions with greater responsibilities — always a plus for any chef.

The formal culinary program is just the beginning. As an added bonus, work experience is a great networking opportunity.

The American Culinary Federation ACF , founded in , is the largest professional chefs and cooks association in the United States, with over 17, members in chapters nationwide. Formal education is not required to become a chef. A culinary degree may also be an advantage when looking for a job, as it provides background learning. Students will not only learn how to do something, but understand why it is done a certain way. Culinary schools are dedicated to one thing — the culinary arts.

No matter the diploma, certificate or degree that results from attending a culinary school, students should feel secure the curriculum will be focused strongly on what it takes to become a chef.

Nature's Bounty: Making of a Modern Chef | Psychology Today

Completion might require a commitment of anywhere from one to four years. Despite their generally higher cost, culinary schools can be one of the best ways to begin a chef career, thanks to the quality of faculty, training and updated facilities. But unlike culinary schools, community colleges may be cheaper to attend.

Community colleges also allow students to take a few general education classes, which can provide for a more well-rounded degree. A vocational or trade school program could be one of the quickest ways to obtain culinary training. Some programs are associated with local high schools, where juniors or seniors can learn valuable skills that will give them a leg up when getting a culinary degree or prepare them for entry-level work.

Other programs are intended for high school graduates and have a curriculum that is designed to teach a specific set of culinary skills, preparing graduates to move right into the kitchen. For example, a typical degree in the culinary arts will cover management, business and marketing concepts, all of which will prepare graduates to run their own restaurant or other food related business.

Students will also learn about a wide variety of cuisines and cooking methods.

There are numerous educational paths to fulfill the dream of being a chef. It all depends on the particular student and a host of other factors. A certificate is the fastest way to get culinary arts training, typically taking under a year to complete. This curriculum is typically very intense and focus mostly on hands-on learning and obtaining practical skills. A few classes that can be found in a typical culinary certificate program include:. Students will learn how to create various bread and dough foods, such as pastries, pies, cookies and bread.

Students will learn about the equipment in a kitchen, as well as specific tools and cooking techniques commonly used in food preparation.

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Focuses on how ingredients react with each other to create certain dishes, as well as how and why certain methods of food preparation affect the taste. The associate degree is one of the most popular means to obtain a culinary degree. It usually takes only two years to complete and is offered by a variety of institutions, such as community colleges and culinary schools. During the two years of education, students should expect to gain an extensive array of culinary skills and knowledge that will provide the foundation for a career as a chef. Below is a sampling of potential courses.


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Students will learn how to prepare international dishes, including using correct ingredients, tools and preparation methods. This class teaches the importance of sanitation protocols and avoiding food-borne illnesses. Applicable local laws and ordinances will also be discussed. How to acquire ingredients and supplies in logistically efficient and profitable ways is reviewed in this course. It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. The proper etiquette, procedures and techniques, as well as the fundamentals of a la carte restaurant service, are taught in this class.

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Traditional French cooking styles and ingredients are the focus of this class. The history of French cuisine will also be introduced. The basics of marketing concepts are explained.

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Students will also learn to apply those principles to the food service and restaurant setting. Each concentration prepares students for a particular career in the culinary world. The making of desserts involves its own unique set of ingredients and cooking techniques. In fact, many higher end restaurants will have a chef devoted only to making desserts. A pastry chef focuses on making desserts, pastries, breads and other baked foods.

In order to become a pastry chef, an individual must focus their training and experience on baking, desserts and breads. A chocolatier works with chocolate to make a variety of sweets or candies. He is also said to have declared that the meal should consist of no more than a cup of soup with rice, fish, and pickles, all of which had to be of the highest quality—an opulence of perfection, rather than of wealth. Eventually, kaiseki branched into two traditions: the spare meal still served with the tea ceremony today, and the luxurious kaiseki served in restaurants—without tea, but with plenty of sake on hand.

Hundreds of rules can govern the preparation of a kaiseki meal. Almost all of them serve aesthetic or gastronomic ends, though to a nonexpert they can seem ludicrously fussy. Plates should be arranged with the main element slightly to the rear, so that, to a seated guest looking down, it appears to be centered. Pieces of sashimi should be served in odd numbers. Round food should be served in square vessels, and square food in round vessels. No two bowls of the same shape and material should consecutively appear.

Food that is grilled should precede food that is steamed, which in turn should precede food that is fried. Ingredients with narrow, days-long windows of shun —like bamboo shoots in spring, or plum blossoms in winter—should be included not only to bring diners joy but to prompt a melancholy reflection on the relentlessness of time and the inevitability of death. For the hearty course called shiizakana , which typically features a meaty soup or stew, Nakayama serves pasta: a swirl of spaghetti alla chitarra, tossed in a creamy ragu of abalone liver and pickled cod roe, topped with Burgundy black truffles.

In a meal of restrained and finely drawn flavors, it growls with a brazen decadence.

What Does a Chef Do?

Some chefs make the rounds and glad-hand, but Nakayama emerges to greet only one table at a time, for a brief exchange of gratitude before each diner leaves. Their home, like the restaurant, is spare but warm. For Nakayama, its biggest allure was a room hidden in the basement where she could keep her records, her electric piano, and her collection of guitars.

As a teen-ager, her passion was music; she studied piano for a year after high school, then on a whim travelled to Japan, hoping to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. Like many ryokan , this one served its guests exquisite kaiseki meals.