Josh Blinston Jones, HR and Recruitment Manager at The Palomar, shares some of his tops for pursuing a career as a chef. He From how to start and work your way up the ladder to why you should consider getting some experience in Middle Eastern cuisine.
What are 3 important tips for candidates looking to start a career as a chef?
Find a strong mentor at an early age.
Thinking about your career should require deep thought about where you actually want to go. You will find that in any kitchen, there is a clear hierarchy and progression up this ladder and it is, in part, dependent on your years of experience. Many chefs find that they are able to quickly progress but then end up plateauing after a certain point and are stuck with a limited skill set.
The best chefs don’t concentrate on trying to reach the top of the ladder as quickly as possible; instead, they find themselves a mentor in a junior part of their career who inspires them. When searching for jobs and having interviews, try to look at the senior members of the team – what do they enjoy? What inspires them?
The great thing about hospitality is that it brings together different cultures and different people. Likewise, kitchens are also hubs for diversity in terms of chefs, their backgrounds and most importantly their skill-set. Good chefs have explored many different kitchens and have therefore naturally picked up new skills along the way. However, the greatest chefs are always humble about their skills and knowledge and so are open-minded and willing to learn from other chefs.
Keep your knives sharp.
This makes your work a lot easier!
Would you recommend specialising in Middle Eastern cuisines? What makes it different to being a chef in a pub, for example?
The Middle East is rich with history and is located at the centre of a lot of different cultures. Trying to capture all this is what makes specialising in Middle Eastern cuisines challenging yet so interesting.
Our Soho eatery focuses on contemporary Middle Eastern cuisines, with a particular influence on Jerusalem’s vibrant food scene. The city itself has experienced lots of different people moving around the area across the ages, bringing about an expanded range of tastes and spices to be captured in a menu and skills to be learnt in the kitchen – far more than you would in just a normal pub.
What is required to move up the ladder in a kitchen? Is it training and development/years of experience/specialisation etc?
Success in the kitchen depends on the skills that you actively develop. Qualifications are not essential and they do not give you a head-start, however, they are good in terms of giving you a broad foundation to then build your skills upon. Unless you have a clear goal about where you want to specialise, you should be spending 18 months to 2 years at different restaurants so you understand how to move around the kitchen and gain basic techniques e.g. cutting skills.
You should always remember that different venues will provide different knowledge and you should actively seek to close those gaps in knowledge by getting perspective elsewhere.
Is the future the same for all chefs? What doors does it open?
One of the great things about working your way up the kitchen ladder is that the last rung doesn’t always have to be an Executive Chef position. Some chefs find that they would like to split their time between the kitchen and focusing on the operational side of a business, for this you can work as a Deputy Chef.
There is also a considerable amount of fluidity with other hospitality ladders. For example, some of the best General Managers in restaurants have previously been Head Chefs, making those restaurants far more successful as their experience means they understand how to run both the floor and the kitchen and create better synergies between them.
Do you have anything to say to candidates about being a chef in general?
There is a lingering reputation that kitchens are daunting places to work and I think that lots of employers and kitchens are making sincere efforts to improve working conditions e.g. making sure chefs are paid by the hour rather than having a set wage, ensuring chefs work no more than 45 hours per week and allowing chefs to move to a different venue within the organisation.
Hospitality as a whole is becoming more understanding of the foundational role that chefs play within an organisation as well as the importance of rewarding them and creating an environment that is as palatable for chefs as it is for customers. The hospitality industry is a very rewarding one, so if you take it seriously by giving yourself to a job then you can get a whole lot back.