Hospitality Overseas – Professional Chefs

The idea of haute cuisine dates back to the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, with the French taking the lead as Marie-Antoine CarÄ“me became known as the “King of Chefs.” Professional chefs, at this time, were considered a privilege of royalty and the nouveau riche, where each tried to outdo the other in the preparation and intricate display of elaborate feasts. Of course, professional chefs today can be found at restaurants, hotels, resorts and spas, lodges, cruise ships, private yachts, and in the military, as well as on the personal staff of presidents, prime ministers, kings, and queens. Fine dining establishments will attribute much of their popularity and success to the reputation of an excellent chef. Many wealthy families and celebrities bring their own personal chef or chefs with them when they travel. Your services may also be needed by catering companies for banquets, special occasions, conferences, and other large gatherings.

At this point, we might make a simple distinction between a chef and a cook – “all chefs are cooks, but not all cooks are chefs.” The chef is the “chief” and head of his kitchen staff and holds a highly respected position and title based on his experience, training, and expertise in the culinary arts. Often referred to as the head chef, executive chef, or in France as the chef de cuisine, his or her duties can range from preparing menus, ordering food, and supervising its preparation to hiring and firing of the staff and the overall management, arrangement, and presentation of meals.

An apprentice, or commis, to the head chef may be hired during or after completing training, and usually works directly under the chef de partie, or in a particular section of the kitchen. Professional chefs in Europe must complete a total of 4 years of training, with salary commensurate with their level or stage Formal training is usually for 2 years, and then an apprenticeship for another 1 to 3 years, depending upon individual motivation and ability. Some obtain employment that allows them to attend culinary school in their off-duty hours, while gaining valuable hands-on experience at the same time.

Kitchens in large restaurants that cater to a huge clientele will have several chefs, each assigned and often ranked in their particular specialty such as the top position of saucier, where the sauce may be the pièce de resistance, poissonier or preparer of fish, the rotisseur expert on meat, and the patissier who prepares those delectable pastries and desserts. The sous chef is the second in command, working directly under the head chef, supervising the specialty chefs, and filling in for special events, absences, or on many other occasions. Although the actual title and specialty may differ, there is considerable prestige associated with the position of a professional chef, and employment can be found in most every country in the world.

You will need either a college diploma or a degree and certification in culinary arts to work abroad and demonstrate your proficiency as a professional chef. Culinary arts schools can be found online and worldwide, with beginning courses in preparation of hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches, salads, and even ice carving. You will learn how to use the equipment, to coordinate the kitchen staff with the dining room servers, and to prepare a variety of styles and types of food such as Italian, Portuguese, Slavic, Asian, Greek, and French. Your training will include creating simple menus including a la carte, appetizers, entrees, and desserts, while the advanced classes may focus on international wine appreciation, buffet and table presentation, as well as the storage and quality standards required by different countries.

As might be expected, Paris is a well known city for culinary schools such as the Ecole du Cordon Bleu, the Ritz Escoffier, a good choice for those who do not speak French, and the L’Atelier de Chefs, which offers 2-hour classes at a reasonable price of 34 Euros. Many other cooking classes are offered as a part of a tour through certain countries such as France, Italy, and Spain; however, these can be expensive and might be considered only as something extra to add to your experience. Le Cordon Blue International is probably the best known cooking school with campuses worldwide including London, Mexico City, and Australia.

The exclusive Tante Marie cooking school in Woking, England, about a 25-minute train ride from London, is famous throughout the world for professional chefs’ training with locations in numerous countries. Students receive the Cordon Bleu Diploma after completing 2 to 3 terms of 11 weeks each and are then eligible for the advanced level 4 diploma. Scholarships are available, and they offer 2-week specialty chef courses for around 300 Euros. Although their schools are expensive, about $22,000 U.S., they do have important contacts in the industry and offer professional advice and assistance in placing their students with well known hotels and restaurants. Students do not reside at the school, but a list of host families, self-catering accommodations, and various B&Bs nearby is available. Less expensive culinary schools can also be found in Scotland, India, the U.S, Europe, Asia, and Canada, with many offering job placement worldwide. Some exemplary students may be fortunate enough to be hired to work with a team of chefs in one of the many Gordon Ramsay establishments around the world.

There is a huge demand for chefs worldwide from Japan to Africa and New Zealand, with employers offering various benefits to potential employees such as paying your travel expenses. Working hours and conditions for professional chefs will depend on the establishment where you’re hired, and the salary can vary within each country according to your experience and level of training. Most chefs are somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35, having taken time to acquire the proper training and experience, considerably more to be considered a Master Chef. This occupation does attract women, as well, although they are in the minority. The Internet is a good source for finding schools and long-term employment for professional chefs. There are a number of international organizations for professional chefs such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the World Association of Chefs Societies.

You may not achieve the worldwide recognition of Emeril Lagasse or Wolfgang Puck, but if you are eager, creative, and skilled in the art of cookery, there is certainly money to be made abroad as a professional chef.

(Note: I discovered an interesting bit of information while writing this article. In Buddhist monasteries, the chef is known as a “tenzo” or “heavenly monk,” and holds a very important, highly esteemed position within the monastic order.)

Sharon L. Slayton

Filed Under: Travel & tourism jobs

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