Being a chef is one of the most rewarding jobs. From working in different areas of the kitchen, moving into different avenues of hospitality and travelling the world, working in the profession can open so many doors. In this article, we’ll take you through how to become a chef in Australia.
For those looking from the outside in, the industry has developed a negative reputation due to its long hours, weekend and holiday shifts and overall staff shortage. But for those working behind the scenes, the industry is an exciting, dynamic environment and a unique opportunity to work with passion and creativity.
Along with the benefits of exploring the globe, being a chef allows you to show off your creativity and imagination. “Hospitality and cookery, is very expressive, it is very creative,” Chef Tim Gatt told Goodman Fielder Food Service.
“It is you on a plate. You have to cook, you have to feel, you have to touch and taste. You have to use all of your senses, so it is a great way for you to express yourself,” he explained.
So, while it may be hard work finding your feet at the beginning, the process of moving up the ranks, creating a band of loyal, satisfied customers and experiencing the flavours of the world can be an extremely rewarding experience. So, how does one’s career in hospitality start? What certificates do you need? And is there really room to grow?
Hospitality has a number of sectors that falls under it. Whether it is accommodation, travel and tourism, entertainment or food and beverage, there is an avenue to suit everyone’s needs, wants and desires.
For those who are already working in the food and beverage industry, their story on how they got to where they are now is often similar in a number of ways. Many of today’s head and executive chefs started their apprenticeship at a local venue and worked their ways up the ranks to become the lead chef or sometimes even owner.
Though, these days many young chefs are investing time into educating themselves before moving into the kitchen on a full-time basis. Chef and full-time trainer and assessor at William Angliss, Sydney, Tim Gatt explained to Goodman Fielder Food Service that “you don’t need a lot of qualifications to get into hospitality” and that there are now a range of different ways to secure a successful career within the industry.
“Through school, you can do a hospitality or cookery course and get a Certificate II,” he said. “You can then go to TAFE or find a registered training organisation, such as ourselves and do full-time study before moving into a chef role.”
At William Angliss, their full-time course is split into three stages, which aims to expose students to different areas of the kitchen. “The first stage is in the café; you learn the kitchen fundamentals, basic cookery methods and start to produce food. Then, stage two you move into our restaurant, where you learn more fine dining foods and cookery methods,” Chef Tim said.
Stage three of the course involves off-site work placement in an established, fully-operated kitchen. “Placement is a must,” Chef Tim expressed. “You can only learn so much at any school. When you go out on placement, you learn things like speed, cleanliness and how to think like a chef. You need to be in the industry to understand what the industry is all about,” he continued.
From executive chef to head chefs, right down to apprentices and kitchen hands, there are a number of career movements available when working within commercial kitchens, meaning you never have to feel ‘stuck’ within your job. Though, moving up the ranks is dependent on a number of factors, including your qualifications and overall kitchen experience and knowledge.
Many start their career as a kitchen hand within kitchens, either big or small. The role of a kitchen hand provides you the opportunity to learn how the kitchen works before fully committing to the career path, as well as on-the-job training and experience. Despite there being little to no cooking within the role, a kitchen hand assists the cooks and chefs by ensuring all utensils are cleaned and stored and all prep ingredients are washed and ready to go.
According to Seek, the number of current vacancies in Australia as of July 2 is 732.
According to Indeed, the average median salary (as of July 2) is $23.00 per hour.
Within some kitchens, you can begin your career in a cook role with no qualifications. Usually found in QSR kitchens, a cook prepares fast, simple foods that they can whip together as quickly as possible. While having the ability of working on several orders at once, a cook is also required to ensure the freshness and quality of ingredients are up to standard at all times and that there is minimal waste during service. It’s worth noting that these days employers are beginning to require that cooks obtain a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery.
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 2,515 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $54,000
A chef is the first on the ranks that is considered a professional cook due to the training they have received. Chefs are found in majority of commercial kitchens, from fine dining to cafes, institutions and even food trucks. Once you have been trained throughout a commercial kitchen, you may choose to focus on one specific cuisine or style, whether it be pastry or Asian-fusion for example, and continue to educate yourself to become the expert in the particular space that you have identified. Within the role, chefs are responsible for a number of tasks across pre-service, service and post-service. From checking inventory, cutting, cleaning and prepping foods to communicating with floor staff, cooking and serving meals, the list of tasks for a chef is endless. To be classified as a chef, you need to have completed an apprenticeship and earned vocational qualifications such as a Certificate III in Cookery.
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 2,689 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $55,000
Once you have trained yourself to become a cuisine specialist, the next step in your career is a chef de partie. Within this role you are responsible for a station of the kitchen and assist the head chef with creating new dishes for the menu that is related to your section. It’s a hands-on role involving prepping, cooking and presenting of dishes. Some titles that fall within a chef de partie can include:
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 379 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $57,000
The sous chef supervises the chef de partie and reports directly to the kitchen’s head or executive chef. From managing and training staff to designing menus, ensuring each dish is profitable and prepping and cooking meals, your role touches all aspects of the kitchen. To become a sous chef, you need to have completed an apprenticeship or gained a vocational qualification, such as a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery.
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 611 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $66,000
A head chef is the senior chef who is the leader of a kitchen usually within small to medium sized businesses. Within this role you take on a supervisory responsibility within the kitchen and resolve any staffing issues that may arise. Along with staff management, you are in charge of planning, designing and costing menus, as well as liaising with suppliers and managing budgets. While it is common for head chefs not to be on the tools as much, in some kitchens you are working alongside the sous chef behind the pass, especially during rush hour. To be a head chef in Australia, a completed apprenticeship in cooking is required, as well as a qualification in cookery.
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 902 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $76,000
Executive chefs are commonly found in large establishments and are considered the highest level of chef. As the executive chef, you are the leader of the kitchen and in some cases may be responsible for multiple outlets – this is dependent on the business. Along with ensuring the kitchen operations runs smoothly, you also manage staff, set budgets and ensure they are met at all times and set the overall vision for the venue and the menu. To be an executive chef, many venues require a minimum of 10-years’ experience in the kitchen, as well as:
Number of jobs in Australia: As of July 2, there were 297 vacant jobs advertised
Median salary: $98,000
It’s true when they say not one day in the kitchen is the same. From experimenting with new products and ingredients, to creating new menus and keep up with the latest trends, there is always opportunity for growth and education when you work behind the pass.
Hospitality is one of the only industries that is universal and considered one’s visa to exploring the world. So, it is no shock that one of the most loved aspects of being a chef is the ability to travel to different countries and taste the flavours and cuisines that are on offer.
“As a chef, travelling around the world is the best part because at the end of the day, everyone eats, meaning you will always find a job,” Chef Tim said. Practicing what he preaches, Chef Tim spent time abroad working for Faviken and Mathias Dahlgren in Stockholm, Sweden and Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark during the early stages of his career.
And while the demands of customers, changing food trends and product availability change frequently, it ensures you are always learning on the job. Whether it is new flavours, new techniques and skills or new recipes, the range of learning opportunities are endless. “Food is always adapting every year and new restaurants are always popping up. The industry is always changing, so you will never get bored and you are always learning,” Chef Tim said.
So, whether you’re starting off in hospitality or have been working in the industry for some time, your options are endless. If you want to travel the world and work or have the ability to learn new skills every day and form a close bond with your work mates, being a chef is the right job for you.