Qualify as a chef to start a career in SA’s growing hospitality industry

South African youngsters looking for alternative options to further their studies post-matric should consider the possibilities offered by qualifying as a chef. The pros of this service-driven profession include the ability to earn while you’re qualifying as well as an opportunity to master a craft that will always be in high demand around the world.

That’s according to Executive Chef Martin Kobald, one of South Africa’s leading chefs and the owner of the ChefMLK School of Cooking. Kobald, who is also the vice-president of World Association of Chefs Societies and Honorary Past President of the South African Chefs Association (SACA) says that demand for qualified chefs is rising across South Africa as the tourism industry booms and local consumers seek out fine dining experiences.

He says that hotels and restaurants around the country are eager to recruit chefs who are trained to high global standards and have internationally-recognised qualifications. By some estimates, the country has a shortfall of thousands of chefs, largely as a result of the rapid growth of the tourism industry over the past decade.

Kobald says that becoming a chef isn’t for everyone – it is a job that demands long hours, often in uncomfortable conditions. A six-day working week and 10-hour shifts are by no means uncommon in the industry. Chefs often find themselves needing to work long hours in a hot and noisy kitchen while their families and friends are celebrating special occasions or holidays.

“Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have put chefs on the map, but youngsters interested in a career in the catering and hospitality industry shouldn’t imagine that the job is always glamorous as it looks on TV,” says Kobald. “It is a career for people who are as passionate about service and the craft as they are about fine food.”

“However, for the right person, becoming a chef is a dream profession,” he adds. “One of the most significant benefits is that it is a career path open to those that don’t have the funds or time to study at a university. They can embark on a three-year apprenticeship and start bringing money in while they’re still qualifying; or they can study for around two years, full-time. You don’t even necessarily need a Grade 12 (matric) certificate to apply to a chef or hotel school, at the ChefMLK School of Cooking you just need to be 16 years of age, can speak, read and write the English language together with a knowledge of basic Math,” says Kobald.

To qualify as a chef, you should choose a school that offers a qualification backed by an international certification. The ChefMLK School of Cooking, for example, offers the City & Guilds Qualifications in Food Preparation and Culinary Arts. This means that your qualification will be recognised in South Africa as well as other parts of the world.

“An ideal chef course should cover a full range of theoretical and practical training encompassing hospitality and catering industry basics, nutrition, basic kitchen procedures, food preparation, hygiene, cooking of a variety of foods and dishes as well as catering operations, costs and menu planning. But the practical component is one of the most important things to look for.” says Kobald.

“You shouldn’t simply be learning from a book,” he says. “You should get an opportunity to visit markets, butcheries and bakeries for example to learn where to find and how to choose the best produce. You must learn hands-on how to cut up a lamb carcass or create a pastry. And you should spend a lot of time in a real, working kitchen to practice your skills.”

Kobald says that his school has managed to place nearly every single student in the hospitality industry who has graduated in either the Certificate or Diploma City & Guilds courses. “There is no shortage of jobs for good chefs,” he adds. “And one of the real benefits is that demand is booming for chefs in Europe, Australia and other parts of the world, too.”

Getting qualified as a chef opens up a range of exciting career options, says Kobald. Some chefs prefer to stay in the kitchen, often choosing to master a craft such as pastry or becoming the head chef in a busy hotel or prestigious restaurant. Others seek to move up the ranks to become hotel or restaurant managers. And those with an entrepreneurial flair may set up their own restaurants.

Beyond the restaurant, qualified chefs can offer catering or consulting services. They also earn the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and empower fellow chefs by becoming teachers or accredited judges for international judging events. The opportunities are endless.