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Celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have glamorised cooking, resulting in more and more young people showing an interest in the profession and choosing it as a career path.

David Keir, Regional Executive Chef for Fedics, says the scope within the hospitality industry is vast. “Depending where you want to work and the environment which you find most appealing, options range from a chef in a restaurant or a hospital, to a game farm or a premier resort.”

According to Keir, the catering industry has changed drastically in the corporate arena, moving from a canteen facility to a restaurant; while consumer demand has gone from chicken A La King to healthy wraps. “What this translates into is more exciting options and opportunities within the industry. We have chefs at sites that range from top corporate organisations to schools, large mines and casinos.”

Keir says with the many study options available – which vary from in-house training to training at an institution – it is vital to choose the right one. “Learners need to look for a qualification which is directly linked to workplace skills, with the emphasis on job competency.”

The South African Chef’s Association (SACA) plays an integral role in the training and continuous improvement of standards in the hospitality industry. A professional culinary association with over 2 500 members, SACA assists in identifying and defining the training needs of the industry.

Many South African learning institutions are affiliated to City & Guilds, an international leading vocational awarding body. “The organisation awards certificates every year in over 500 different vocational trades, with its qualifications being highly valued by employers because they’re developed in conjunction with key industry bodies – so they’re always relevant and up to date,” Keir says.

He recommends that aspirant chefs work their way up from entry-level to gain an appreciation of all the different positions one can hold in a kitchen. “This becomes invaluable when you reach management level,” he says, “as you will have a comprehensive understanding of how a successful kitchen needs to be run.”

Here is a look at the various levels:

Chef de Cuisine: Head / Executive Chef

  • Is responsible for running the entire kitchen. Key tasks include:
    • Planning menus
    • Dealing with suppliers
    • Managing the budget
    • Organising staff
    • Monitoring and maintaining the quality of the food the kitchen produces

Sous Chef: Deputy Chef

  • Direct assistant to the Head Chef and second in command
  • Has experience in every department and can run the kitchen on behalf of the Head Chef when necessary
  • Shares some duties with the Head Chef, such as menu planning, costing and ordering
  • Larger kitchens often have more than one Sous Chef, responsible for a particular area e.g. Banquet Sous Chef, in charge of all banquets

Commis Chef: Chef in Training

  • A cook who has just completed an apprenticeship or has an equivalent qualification
  • Will spend time in each department learning different techniques and understanding how to look after kitchen equipment and utensils.

Expediter or Announcer

  • Serves as the liaison between the customers in the dining room and the stations in the kitchen
  • Relying on coordination and timing, they make sure that all the guests at a table are served their food simultaneously
  • Puts the finishing touches on the dish before it goes to the dining room

Chef De Partie: Section Chef

  • Reports to the Sous Chef
  • Can specialise as a larder cook, butcher, pastry cook, sauce cook, roast cook, relief cook, side dish cook, breakfast cook, canteen cook or fish cook
  • Is in charge of a particular area of production
  • In large kitchens, each station chef might have several cooks and/or assistants. In most kitchens, however, the station chef is the only worker in that department

Keir goes on to explain working as a chef also opens international doors and is the ideal way for young South Africans to see the world. It’s also a good career to have at home: as tourism in South Africa grows the need for qualified catering staff will increase, creating further job opportunities.

“Preparations for the World Cup in June 2010 have indicated that there is a shortage of skilled chefs in South Africa. However, when we compare the skills we do have, many South African chefs are on a par with the finest in the world in terms of skill.

“The key here is to encourage young people to see being a chef as a career and not merely as a job. The possibilities in the sector truly are endless. The world is always ready for an innovative and exciting chef,” Keir concludes.

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