How to: Become a Chef Without Going to Culinary School
Becoming a chef is a rewarding experience, although the life of a chef is not meant for everyone. Does the life of a chef intrigue you? Do you wish to embark on a culinary journey, do you not have the funding or the time to attend culinary school? Don't worry, becoming a chef is a bit easier than you may think, but as with anything worth doing, it requires hard work and a ton of determination.
Step One: Apply at Local Restaurants
There is really only one way to begin your culinary adventure without culinary school, and this is obviously to work in a restaurant.
You should head to some of your local restaurants and apply as soon as you can. You probably shouldn't head to a more prestigious or busy restaurant to begin with. You should rack up plenty of experience first.
Head to a local restaurant chain and apply, they may not start you off as a cook, but beginning as a dish washer is a good way to get your foot in the door to becoming a chef, as you will learn the ins and outs of the industry. Applying at small business restaurants is also a great tactic, as they will be more invested in teaching you how to become a cook, getting promoted is much easier, and it is overall much easier to be hired.
Step Two: Work Hard, Earn References
Who you know in the restaurant industry is extremely important in becoming a chef. Restaurant work is hard work, and your references will go a long way with more prestigious restaurants. Work as hard as you possibly can, and really Earn those references. This will not happen overnight, but eventually you will be ready to move up with enough will power. Keep at it, and you will get there.
Step Three: Look the Part
A lot of restaurants will not supply you with a uniform if you are a cook. If you want to become a chef, you have to look professional- as with any career. Head to your local restaurant supply store and pick up some chef jackets and pants, this will set you apart from your competition, and chef clothes are designed to keep you safe and cool while cooking.
Looking proffesional is a very important piece of the puzzle, you may also want to invest in a set of proffesional chef knives from your local restaurant supply store as well. There is nothing more satisfying or impressive than having your own beautiful set of tools to do the job right.
Step Four: Stay Positive
Staying positive in the industry can be extremely difficult sometimes. You will work weekends, holidays, and most weeks, well over 40 hours, I work about 70 hours per week. Showing the people around you that you are happy with your job is the best way to get promoted, and show that you care.
Complaining, and getting upset about being called into work on that Saturday you called off a month ago (this happens to me all the time) won't get you far in this field. Be prepared to put in the extra hours, and you just may find what yourself in a position to inquire about that new manager position that just opened up.
Step Five: Management
Becoming the Restaurant Manager will bring you much closer to becoming a chef, as chefs do need management experience. Being a restaurant manager requires a lot of dedication. Being late is unacceptable, you can rarely call yourself out of work, you are almost always expected to be there when you are needed.
Continue loving your job, keep gaining experience, you are almost a chef. After you have worked as a manager for a year or two, it's time to move on.
Step Six: Becoming a Sous Chef
This is where your cooking and management experience and references will pay off. Being a Sous Chef is a mash-up of cooking and management responsibilities. You will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the kitchen- creating soups, new specials for the day, and assisting your executive chef. You are finally in charge of the kitchen (when the executive chef isn't around!) Congratulations! Being a Sous Chef feels extremely rewarding, and you will finally be able to call yourself a chef!
Step Seven: Becoming an Executive Chef
Becoming an Executive chef will be your most challenging step yet. (Step Eight may help with this.) It will take many years of work and determination- and even then, it may never happen. I have worked with many chefs who have not (and probably will never) reach this level.
If you become the executive chef, you are responsible for all operations of the kitchen, and your word is law in YOUR kitchen. If you ever reach this point in your career, hats off to you. You will never find a more challenging or rewarding experience (until you own your own restaurant!)
(Optional) Step Eight: Go to Culinary School
I know- this is a page dedicated to avoiding culinary school. But, if you are truly passionate and desire to become a great chef, you should consider culinary school. It is a valuable experience- even after you have worked in restaurants for a few years. Not only is it a great experience, it looks great on your resume, you will learn a lot, and be comitted to staying within the restaurant industry.
If you know being a chef is what you really want, you should go for it! I attended culinary school, and I haven't regretted it for a second. For me, the most important thing about my culinary school experience was the overall commitment to become a chef.
How do you feel about culinary school?
Thank you for reading, I really hope my article was helpful to you, and influences your decision on becoming a chef. If you have any feedback or questions for me, please let me know, I would really appreciate it. Thanks again, and as always, good luck on your culinary adventure. Sincerely,