Always wanted to become a chef, but not 100% sure where to start? From what course you should study to how long an apprenticeship takes, we answer all your questions about how to become a qualified chef and how to succeed in Australia’s exciting food scene!
So you’ve decided you want to become a professional chef, but you have no idea where to start. All you know is you have a food dream and you want to make it happen!
Whether your heart’s set on opening Sydney’s hottest banh mi truck, you dream of pushing molecular gastronomy to new heights or want to work at Noma under the masterful René Redzepi, becoming a chef requires lots of study, dedication and training in the culinary arts.
But if you have a passion for food and a knack for cooking with a bit of creative flair, you can begin working your way to the top of the food chain.
Here are the steps you need to take to become a chef in Australia:
Get yourself into a kitchen ASAP.
Why? Because as legendary chef, Jacques Pépin, says you need to make sure you ‘get into cooking for the right reasons.’
In an interview with Munchies, Pépin says that his one piece of advice to young chefs is to first work in a restaurant. It doesn't matter what you do, it could be working as a dishwasher, waiter or cook but the point is to ' get the taste and essence of that thing that may seem glorious from the outside.'
'After [you’ve] been at it for a couple of months, [you’ll] realise whether it’s the love of [your] life or something [you] don’t want to do at all. If it gratifies you, it makes you happy to cook for people, and it fills up your life, then go ahead.’
So before you dive headfirst into becoming a chef, get a job as a kitchen hand or to do some work experience to get a feel for it. As most chefs will tell you cooking for fun and cooking for a living are two completely different beasts. Working in the hospitality industry means long hours, working most if not all weekends and even public holidays. You’ll essentially be working any time your family and friends are off the clock, so it’s important to get a feel for what sort of impact this will have on your work/life balance.
Here are some other questions you might want answered whilst you decide whether being a chef is the right career for you.
Commercial kitchens are fast-paced and high-pressure work environments. Once service starts and the orders roll in, things happen very quickly and there’s little margin for error. It demands a lot of energy and focus, so spend some time in a commercial kitchen to make sure this is the sort of workplace you’ll thrive in.
Thankfully most chefs agree that the ‘militant-style’ kitchen has largely disappeared, but commercial kitchens do have a hierarchy and clear chain of command that you’ll need to follow. If you struggle with authority, a kitchen might not be the best place for you.
This depends on how much where you work and your level of seniority in a kitchen. According to the latest stats from PayScale, this is the salary range for chefs in Australia:
Seasoned chefs all agree that if you want to succeed you need a strong work ethic and an almost obsessive love for food. Here’s some advice from the world’s leading chefs:
Technically there aren’t any specific qualifications you need to hold to work as a chef (Heston Blumenthal for instance is completely self-taught!), however as a trades-based profession in Australia, it is common for chefs to complete an apprenticeship and gain a vocational qualification such as a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery (SIT30813) or higher at the end of their training.
There are different qualifications and apprenticeship opportunities depending on what type of chef you want to become:
Here are answers to all the questions you might have about completing an apprenticeship.
To qualify to begin your apprenticeship you need to have completed your Year 10 School Certificate. Check with your local TAFE or careers adviser as the requirements may vary for different states and territories.
Culinary schools or specialised colleges are an alternative way to get cooking qualifications. Many of these institutes are highly regarded in the world of culinary arts and have excellent campuses to facilitate your learning. Like TAFE courses, culinary schools also require a combination of practical industry placement and class work. Entry requirements and costs of these courses may vary, so do your research before making your final decision.
Like a hairdresser needs scissors, a painter needs a paintbrush and a builder needs a hammer, a chef also needs the tools of the trade. Particularly when you’re learning, it’s important to have good quality equipment. Most schools and colleges will require you to purchase the folllowing equipment:
Make sure you give your college a call and ask what the estimated cost will be for the equipment before you enrol in the class so you can start saving – you don’t want to be hit with a big bill the first week of class!
In Australia, it takes approximately 3 years to complete your training and make the transition from apprentice to qualified chef. This training is usually made up of working four days a week in a restaurant and one day attending class at TAFE or college.
Many apprentice chefs work in the same restaurant for the full three years of their apprenticeships. However, it is commonplace to move from restaurant to restaurant to gain more experience cooking in different environments and to gain exposure to different cuisines, styles of cooking and flavour profiles.
As an apprentice chef, you will have a variety of jobs that may include:
You will have a lot to learn as an apprentice, so it's very likely that you will be required to help out with all areas of the kitchen.
Yes, as a chef apprentice in Australia you will earn an apprentice’s wage. Chef apprenticeships usually last 3 years and the hourly pay rate increases as you progress through your apprenticeship. It also varies according to factors such your age, where you work, and what award you’re contracted under.
For instance, according to Australia’s Fairwork Pay Calculator, a first year apprentice who is under 21 years of age and working full-time will earn $11.34 per hour, and $430.82 per week under the Restaurant Industry Award 2010 (MA000119).
Penalties for working on weekends, public holidays and late at night (after 10pm-midnight) and early in the morning (midnight to 7am) also apply.
After three years as an apprentice, you’ll graduate with a nationally recognised certificate or diploma and be ready to work as a qualified professional chef!
Where you take your career next is entirely up to you. Maybe you’re keen to explore the future of sustainable, or perhaps you want to specialise in Asian cuisine and learn the art of pulled noodles – whatever it is, the end of your apprenticeship marks an opportunity to hone your craft!
Once you’ve graduated, you might decide to stay at the restaurant you’ve been training at or apply for positions elsewhere. If you decide to move on, job hunting as a chef will involve:
You’ll be happy to hear that Australia is currently experiencing a major shortage of chefs nationwide which should make your job hunt a little easier.
According to a 2015 report conducted by Deloitte Access Economics on behalf of Austrade, more than 38,000 chefs will be needed in Australia between 2015-2020, meaning your career prospects as a chef are strong.
Chefs are also needed across a number of different industries and workplaces, so don’t limit yourself to finding work in a restaurant or café. Chefs are needed in both the private and public sector from hospitals and boarding schools to hotels and even research and development.
Now the real work begins. Like any other career, as a chef you’ll need to work your way up the ladder from being a station chef or line cook to becoming a sous chef, head chef, and eventually an executive chef.
While there’s no one way to achieve success as a chef, to grow it’s recommended that you: