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Careers: How to become a chef
Juhi Dua |
December 12, 2005
You love the aroma of good food, enjoy experimenting with exotic ingredients and would do anything to give an aesthetic look to your culinary creations. Ever thought of becoming a chef?
If you were deterred from taking the plunge, now is a good time to shed your inhibitions; being a chef is a respected profession today. Besides, it pays well.
Aptitude of a star chef
"A good personality, the ability to learn the tricks of the trade to perfection, confidence, cleanliness and, above all, a flair for food and the desire to experiment is a must," says chef Jaidev Khemani, who worked with the ITC-Welcomgroup in Baroda and is now posted in Australia.
Go through this checklist to see if you have what it takes:
~ A keen sense of taste and smell
~ Passion for food
~ Instinct/ intuition for mixing flavours, etc
~ Desire for perfection
~ Urge to innovate/ experiment
~ Grit, determination
~ Willingness to work long hours
~ Efficient memory to help you remember complicated, exotic international recipes
Profile of a chef
The role of a chef is multi-dimensional.
~ The primary responsibility is to create recipes and prepare meals. You must know how to make a wide variety of foods like soups, appetisers, snacks, salads, main dishes, side orders and desserts.
~ As one gets promoted to higher positions, organising the kitchen, directing staff and planning the meals to be served becomes part of your responsibilities.
~ Other responsibilities include determining serving sizes, planning menus, ordering supplies for food and supervising kitchen operations to make sure the food quality and presentation is consistent.
Nitin Kumar, 32, former executive chef with the Hyatt Regency, Mumbai, says, "Being a chef is not just about being innovative in the kitchen and cooking a great meal. It is also about being a great manager. You have to be able to efficiently manage goods, equipment, resources and people. Basically, you have to be an all-rounder in the kitchen."
Train to be a chef: Route 1
The first option is to do a course in hotel management at a reputed professional institute.
~ The 19 institutes registered under the National Council of Hotel Management provide excellent training in the field.
Apart from these, there are institutes run by reputed hotel chains and some private institutes with foreign affiliations and approvals from the All India Council for Technical Education.
~ Institutes under the National Council offer a three-year diploma course while private institutes offer a four-year Bachelor's programme.
For a three-year diploma course, the following are a good bet:
- Army Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology in Bangalore
- Oriental School of Hotel Management in Kozhikode
- Merit Swiss Asian School of Hotel Management in Ooty, Nilgiris
~ Courses run by reputed hotel chains are considered more credible because of the infrastructure, the faculty they provide and the future prospects they offer. They are the best bet in terms of exposure to a working hotel and they enable one to imbibe the exacting levels of service. One may also be absorbed by the parent company post the training.
These institutes are run by three premium hotels graded as best in this category:
- The Taj Group's Institute of Hotel Management at Aurangabad
- Oberoi School of Hotel Management in New Delhi
- Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration in Manipal
~ Another option is to train at a renowned institute abroad (scroll down for list of institute recommendations).
The pros of joining a professional institute is that many of them have campus placements. One is likely to command a higher remuneration and work with better industry brands. You are instructed in various hospitality disciplines; this knowledge could come to use when starting your own outfit.
Pre-requisites and admission process
~ The eligibility for admission to a hotel management institution is 10 + 2 with a minimum of 60 percent aggregate marks.
~ You must appear for a two-hour entrance exam comprising English, Reasoning, General Science and General Knowledge.
This is followed by a group discussion and a rigorous interview in which your aptitude and personality is judged.
~ The exam is held in April/ May and the academic sessions usually start by July/ August every year.
The number of seats varies from college to college. Start doing your research and preparation as early as possible.
~ Courses offer training in Front Office, Housekeeping, Food and Beverages (F&B) and Kitchen.
The syllabus in most colleges also includes study of law, economics, accounts, public relations, general management and a foreign language, thus fully equipping a candidate with the knowledge and expertise to manage all aspects of a hotel. Even sales and marketing is taught.
~ Practical training is combined with classroom lectures in all subjects at all levels.
~ To understand the real functioning of a hotel and to actually apply their acquired knowledge in the field, all students undergo six months of practical training, preferably at a hotel of repute, in the second year of college.
~ To become a chef, you need to choose/ focus on Kitchen as a specialisation. Usually, the training must also be taken in your area of specialisation.
~ Institutes have a fully equipped kitchen and even a restaurant in which the students are trained. You will have to spend long hours in the kitchen learning and practising how to prepare meals and how to use the right equipment. You will be instructed on cutting and knife techniques, public health and sanitation regulations for proper food handling and the appropriate use and maintenance of the kitchen.
~ You will also be instructed in areas like nutrition, planning menus, portion sizes, methods of buying and inventory, serving and presentation styles, appropriate food packaging and storage and utilising leftover food to reduce waste.
Train to be a chef: Route II
You could join a Foodcraft Institute after Class X or XII. Such institutes exist in many states and provide training in catering and food processing. Courses are generally 6-18 months long. Various craft-level courses are offered.
One can join a hotel at a junior level after such a course and reach a supervisory level in about six to seven years. This is a quicker option and is apt for those who are absolutely focused on becoming a chef and do not want to dabble in other fields of hotel management at all.
"To begin with, one needs to imbibe the basics perfectly during the training. Later, when one starts working in a restaurant, innovating and creating your own dishes become very important as guests are always looking for something different and unusual," say Jaidev.
The cons: There is no concept of campus placement. You may not get a job with the best brands and may command a lower salary. However, the course cost and duration is less as compared to at a professional institute. And, of course, your progress would also depend on your own effort.
Hierarchy and salary structure
i. Trainee: After completing the diploma or bachelor's course, a student is usually taken in as a trainee in the kitchen, with a salary ranging between Rs 7,000 to Rs 9,500.
ii. Officer grade: After successful completion of training, a trainee may be absorbed in beginner positions with salaries ranging between Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000, plus perks.
iii. Chef: It usually takes two years in the field, post-training, to become a chef and, depending on performance, you may expect regular promotions. The salaries usually could range between Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000.
iv. Sous Chef: It may take six to seven years to become a Sous Chef (kitchen in-charge). If a person is innovative and competent at his/ her work, he/ she can expect to draw close to Rs 60,000 per month within 5-8 years.
v. Executive Chef: In about 10-12 years, a chef can reach the position of executive chef. An executive chef is responsible for all food and kitchen related decisions, including shopping, deciding the menu and innovation of new specialties.
The Executive Chef is often one of the most highly paid professionals in the hotel since the food quality of the hotel directly enhances the image of the hotel. Many successful and reputed chains pay up to Rs 70,000 -- 1,00,000 per month to their executive chefs.
Pros and cons of being a chef
The bright side
~ Creatively satisfying
~ Out of the box thinking
~ Good remuneration
~ Has its own share of glitz and glamour
The dark side
~ Long, undecided late hours
~ Lots of stamina require
~ Constantly challenged
~ No place for mistakes
"Holidays and festivals are the time when you would feel like being with your friends and family and that's the time when a chef has to be in the kitchen creating great food. So you have to have the will power and urge to work under all circumstances if you want to be a chef," says Randhir Deora, executive chef with a five-star hotel in Mumbai.
"Stamina to stay in the kitchen for long hours and be alert, motivated and creative every single minute is what this profession is all about," he adds.
Where to next?
A chef can branch out into a variety of careers including restaurant management, pastry chef and other related positions in hotels, clubs and up-scale restaurants. After gathering sufficient experience, a chef can always set out on his/ her own and open his/ her own hotel/ restaurant/ club.
Institutes in India
National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology
Library Avenue, Pusa Complex
New Delhi -- 110012
Web site: NCHMCT
The advertisement for admission is published in January every year. The written test is conducted in April.
Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration
Manipal -- 576 119
Web site: WGSHA
The advertisement for admission is published in February every year. The written test is held in April/ May.
Indian Institute of Hotel Management (Taj Group)
Aurangabad -- 431 001
The advertisement for admission is published in February/ March every year.
Oriental School of Hotel Management
5/3411, Mangaden Centre Mavoor Road
Kozhikode -- 673 004
Merit Swiss Asian School of Hotel Management
22, Havelock Road
Ooty -- 643 001
Army Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology
A Sc Centre
Bangalore -- 560 007
Web site: Army Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology
RN Shetty College of Hotel Management and Catering Technology
Kaviraj Nagar, Bilappanavai Nagar
Hubli -- 580 029
Web site: www.rnshotelmgtcollege.com
Kadandala Krishna Rao Memorial College of Hotel Management
Woodlands Hotel Complex
5, Raja Rammahan Roy Road
Bangalore -- 560 025
The Hotel and Tourism School, Les Roches
CH 3961 Bluche
Web site: The Hotel and Tourism School, Les Roches
Swiss Hotel Management School
CH - 1824
Web site: SHMS
Leeds College of Technology
Calverly Street, Leeds
Web site: Leeds College of Technology
Cornell University School of Hotel Management and Administration
Statler Hall, Ithaca
NY 14850, USA
Web site: Cornell University School of Hotel Management and Administration