Insights for culinary students

You got your chef's whites, the checked pants, the bag of new Solingen Knives, and the new Mario Batali Crocs Bistro. You have decided long before this point in time that you would become a chef, that you will cook, create and satisfy a need. Whatever your motivation, ask yourself this: Am I cut out for this?
A lot of culinary schools have sprouted around the metro because suddenly there is an influx of Gordon Ramsay wannabes who want to make their mark in the culinary world. Some of these students probably jumped on the bandwagon because it is suddenly the 'in' thing to be a chef. Some because they could not get into any other course. Then there are those who really have the passion to become a chef. In whatever form, the following insights have been gathered over the years from my professional experience and from other chefs in the industry. Please take these to heart, as they will give you a glimpse of what it is like behind the doors of a professional kitchen.
  • If you want to cook professionally, you have to really, really want it! Above all else, you have to really want it!
  • You will have to give up having a 'normal' life with 'normal' working hours. The hours are long. Holidays and weekends do not belong to you.
  • Develop an obsession for attention to detail. 
  • You only need one kind of knife - a 10 inch chef's knife. It is versatile enough for any kind of food preparation. My personal favorite is the Victorinox Knife if got during my days at Les Roches. And it has been in service for me since 1995, and it is still in excellent condition. 
  • Get comfortable shoes. Shoes that were designed for ktichen use. Not for construction. Not for the pitch. For the kitchen. Because you will be standing for 16 hours straight at any given time. The shoes from Santis are good. And from my experience they are heavy and cumbersome. The leather absorbs kitchen moisture, eventually deteriorating the linings. I have a preference for the Crocs Bistro. They are light, extremely non-slip, and very comfortable.
  • Have always a scribe notebook and click pen ready. Inspiration hits us at the the most opportune time. Jot down cooking notes, recipes and other good tidbits in this handy pocket notebook. It feels good in the hands, and pretty much very friendly for writing. This is a good alternative to the popular moleskin journals.
  • Spend all your waking hours reading food articles, trade magazines, recipe books, lifestyle sections of local papers. Steer away from Culinary reality TV shows.
  • Be diligent in your collection of cookbooks. Go for cookbooks that are rated high on, those that would help you professionally. There are a couple that could get you started: Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen; LaRousse Gastronomique;  La repertoire de la Cuisine; and Escoffier. These would form the foundations for your culinary career. they may be a bit pricey, but the investment will be well worth it.
  • Have a heart of steel. This industry is not for the faint hearted, the delicate, the prissy, the high maintenance individual.
  • Everybody starts at the bottom. And in this industry, no matter what class, religion, sex, social standing, or family you belong to, you DO start at the bottom. You WILL be at the mercy of the cooks above you.
  • Get into apprenticeship as soon as possible. Any culinary school in the world will tell you that experience is the best teacher. You will never know how dangerous a knife is until you cut yourself. You will never know how to gut a fish until you do it yourself. Get a mentor. Search out a chef. Work for free if need be. Just get the experience. Earn your battle scars. 5 years is a good start in thsi industry.
  • The title of Chef is earned. Not because you went to culinary school, but because you earned it.
  • Be humble. There is always something new to learn while cooking professionally. There will always be somebody better than you. If you strut your cocky feathers in the kitchen, there will always be somebody to cut you down. Never take rejection personally.  
  • 'Passion' is such an overused term. Don't use it. If you have the trait, you don't need to be pretentious enough to mention it.
  • Being a professional chef is not glamorous. At least not all the time. And only after several years. Imagine standing in a tight hot kitchen space cranking out thousands of identical dishes consistently at the highest standards for long hours. That's professional cooking. 
  • Always be curious. Always be inquisitive. Never stop learning.

This is the list that I can think of at the moment. I will add to the list as soon as they come through my grubby hands. Do you have any to add to the list? It will benefit all them kids getting into the industry jaded enough to think that they will all end up with monogrammed chef's jackets. Feel free to add to this.

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