A bit about me.....

I started cooking professionally in Australia in October 2000 aged just 17 after previously participating in an in-school traineeship while I was 16.

After competing in several apprentice skills competitions and a 3.5 year apprenticeship, I successfully completed my AQF3 in Commercial Cookery and Certificate of Proficiency - Commercial Cookery (western) – Both of which are issued by the N.S.W State Department of Education &Training.

Since then, I have worked in England, Scotland, on board Cruise ships and in Singapore.

I am about to start a new job as Chef De Cuisine in a place that shall remain secret for now....
Watch this space.....

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A job interview for a chef

Greetings all.
I apologize that it has been a while sine I’ve talked about my professional career. Something’s change and alter in any ones work path.
I am no longer going to work in Saudi Arabia. As I mentioned before, some things change but it now looks like I have a job as a Chef De Cuisine somewhere else in this big wide world. I will give you more details later about that.
In the meantime, I shall tell you about what I had to do to get this job.
I had heard about this position sometime ago. I received news about it via a friend of mine. So as you do with any other job opportunity, I emailed the executive chef.
After a few informal chats followed by a more formal interview over the phone, I was invited to visit the establishment for 2 days of meetings, interviews and finally for some cooking of my own so they may taste and see what I can cook. After all, this is a management position and you need to know exactly what you are paying for.
So I went there and had a tour of the place. Saw the set up and got a bit of insight to the whole operation. Following that I met with the executive chef for another informal chat, obviously during these chats I am still being judged.
Then myself, the chef, his 2nd in command and met with one of the company directors for a more formal (and nerve wrecking) interview. Let me just say that I was glad when it was over!!
Following that the chefs and I had lunch in the outlet that I could be overseeing. That was very important for me because I needed to know what kind of food exactly they were serving so that I can gauge what type of food they are after. It’s no good doing pub food if they want find dining is it?
After lunch I met with HR for a meeting. HR are very similar around the world. They have similar questions and require certain answers. But it still makes me nervous regardless,
Later that afternoon I went back to the outlet to prepare some of my ingredients that I would need for the next day. Then it was off to bed by 9pm for a good night’s sleep.
Awaking bright and early at 7am, I was in the kitchen by 8am preparing my remaining “mise en place” (my preparation). I choose to make –
White Onion Soup
Minted Spring Pea Risotto, Parmesan Cracker
Roast Lamb Loin, Creamed Potato, Thyme Jus      or
Grilled Salmon, Sauté Spinach and Curried Burre Blanc
Roast Plums, Vanilla Mascarpone Cream
It all went well. I was glad it was over and then I went out to join the 2 senior Chefs, the director from the interview  and the VP for their thoughts.
They seemed to enjoy it. I feel I got positive feedback from all. All that was left was to clean up my section, say good bye to the chefs in the kitchen and then meet the chef in his office for the finale verdict.
After changing and showering I met with the man who could be my future boss.........................
I did it, I got the job. We now just have to agree on the contract terms and then I’ll be in a new kitchen in a new town.

So I packed my bag, said good bye and returned home a happy but tired man. It felt good though.
I now expect the contract any day now and hopefully I can start work very soon.
So there you have it. What chefs have to go through to get a job these days!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Kitchen hierarchy and rules

The way a kitchen hierarchy works is like no other normal business. It consists of a system that has been around for many years and was set up based around the military style system.
Today in smaller establishments, the system doesn’t exist. There is simply a head chef, maybe a sous chef and then cooks and apprentices.
However in hotels and ships and anywhere else that there is a large number of cooks and “stations” the rank and file system is very present. Especially in “European” styled kitchens.
For example-
Executive Chef (EC) - is in charge of the whole culinary department. Multiple outlets and banquets and MICE. More often than not mostly involved in the “corporate” side of the company.
Executive Sous Chef (ESC) – The Executive Chefs right hand man. They run the show in their absence. Usually seen more in the kitchen or chef’s office then the EC. Responsible more for daily running issues and menu developments and tastings. There can be anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 depending on the size of the operation.
Chef De Cuisine (CDC) – Would either be in charge of a large section of a banquet/production kitchen such as cold kitchen, pastry or Chinese. They may have 20 or 30 chefs below them or can be in charge of an entire restaurant style outlet. The same as you might see in any restaurant down town. Usually only one in any section or outlet. But if like my last job in Singapore there were at least 10 throughout the whole site.
Sous Chef (SC) – Is the 2nd in charge in an outlet or in a larger section. There may even be 2 or 3 or even 4. Similar to the ESC but on a much smaller scale. Generally only for sections or kitchens of less the 20 chefs. This is the first step into management for a chef.
Junior Sous Chef (JSC) – As above but not quite as experiences as the SC. A JSC will always work with a SC or CDC and very very rarely be left alone to run the kitchen.
Chef De Partie (CDP) – Is the head of a station. Whether its fish, meat, vegetable, pastry or sauce. They are either particularly good at their station or are very good as an all rounder and may be rotated around the kitchen to work on all stations over time. In large kitchens, there can be up to 10 junior chefs working with them on the station.
Demi Chef (DC) – The assistance to the CDP.
Commis Chef (CC) – Mostly used in Europe or European style kitchens. A junior chef. Very early in their culinary career. Runs around helping. Peels vegetables, cleans up and learns the ropes as well as the butt of the jokes.
Apprentice – In Australia this goes for 4 years. A 1st year is exactly that. As green as they come. The cheapest person in the kitchen. Even the dish washer is paid more. You are the first one in and the last one out every day. You make the coffee and clean the floors. You wonder to yourself how this is even related to cooking! Everyone has to start somewhere!
To give you an example, during my apprenticeship there was about 15-20 staff on the kitchen roster. That consisted of the executive chef or head chef, 2 sous chefs and then about 10 “cooks” who were employed on a “casual” roster (although they were pretty much guaranteed 40+ hours a week) and 3 or 4 apprentice chefs of various years.
But, in a large kitchens such as my last job in Singapore where there was a large production kitchen with 100+ chefs on a 24 hour roster, a theme park with 10 outlets and 4 hotels a larger structure is needed. Not only so there is order in the kitchen but it also enables the management to be able to move chefs around to other outlets to replace or assist when needed. Just like in the military.
There are a lot of people these days who proudly wear the title of “Head Chef” at the age of 24 or so. But these are most likely people who went from 4th year apprentice to Sous Chef and then to”Head Chef” and are working in cafes of very smaller restaurants where there is only themselves and 3 or 4 other chefs/cooks. It extremely unlikely that anyone will reach “Head Chef” of a reputable outlet before they are in their 30’s and even less likely of a 5* hotel before they are 35.
I personally have reached Chef De Cuisine at the age of 28 because I started my career aged 16 ½ with an In-school traineeship. Working 16 hrs a week whilst attending school.
7 months later I left school and started my full time apprentiship at the same restaurant I did the traineeship at. It was because of the traineeship I got a 6 months deduction off my apprenticeship time.
Once I had my AQF 3 in Commercial Cooker (Western) and my Certificate of Proficiency (Cookery) I went to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in England as a Commis chef. I was there for 10 months. After returning to Australia I took a job in an island resort in the Great Barrier Reef as a Demi Chef.
I returned to the UK a year later. To Edinburgh, Scotland and took a position as Chef De Partie. I held that title for 3 years in several different restaurants. Including onboard a cruise ships.
Upon returning to Australia, I took up my first Sous Chef position. I had been Sous Chef for almost 3 years when I just recently signed a contract with a new company as Chef De Cuisine of the cold kitchen in the banquet/production kitchens.
Some people have been surprised to see someone in a senior position at my age but I have gone though every one of the steps up the culinary ladder and gaining experience in overseas restaurants has been a huge advantage.
And I recommend it to every young chef.

Monday, 5 December 2011

lessons learned as an apprentice chef

I remember back when I started my apprenticeship at a well known local restaurant.
On my very first day, the executive chef who was a great big Englishman put out his huge hand and shook mine. Then he said “welcome to the real world”. That was the start of my ambitious career.
My 3.5 years at this popular establishment were up, down and forward. Up as in the knowledge I gained was invaluable and helped me to get where I am today. As well as being very fun on occasions.
Down at times because it was hard, hot and fast and I was learning a lot about food and life in general all at once. I remember one time I had to clean and then cut 35kg of fresh baby squid. That’s a huge amount of squid. It took me about 4 hours and was filthy PLUS I stank the whole way home!
And forward because it gave me drive to keep learning and pushed me to do better by making the most out of it.
This might sound odd but one memory that really sticks out in my mind is one that helped me to move forward. One busy Saturday night it was very busy and as I was the apprentice I was running around like a headless chicken getting things for people and doing dishes too. A senior chef yelled for me to do something for them and feeling the pressure I gave some smart arse answer back. WELL, that’s when the great big chef came around to me and poked his finger into my chest and said I have no right to talk to anyone like that. I am the lowest of the low in that kitchen. I am an apprentice. The kitchen hands were higher than me and that I had better keep my mouth shut.
Oh my god. That was the biggest dressing down I had ever received. The whole kitchen went quiet and looked at me. I was so terrified. BUT I learnt a valuable lesson about respect and that’s why I mark it as something that helped me move forward.
I remember one morning I was in the shower at home banging my head against the wall saying that I don’t want to do it anymore. I was tired and had had enough. That’s when dad told me to get myself to work, finish my apprenticeship and then I can do whatever I want after that.
I’m glad I did because it was while working there with some of the other older chefs that I learnt how important it is to aim higher and keep moving forward in my career and never take a step backwards.
I mark those pieces of advice as some of the best I’ve ever received from an employer and I think that because of it I have now got my first Chef De Cuisine position at the age of 28. People have told me to relax and don’t try to run before walking but I don’t see how being ambitious and wanting more is a bad thing. If I just sat back and waited for it to come to me, then I’d still be a Chef de Partie.
And I put that down to my lessons learnt at the first restaurant I ever worked in.

Its a hard life!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Past work experiences

Hi everyone! Because this is a new blog I've added some photos of previous kitchens Ive wored in. In this post you will see pic's from when I worked for P&O Cruises on board MV Oriana.
I was very lucky to be put to work in "celebrity chef" Gary Rhodes restaurant called "Rhodes at the Curzon Room". It was just like working in a normal Al a carte restaurant on land. We chefs in the kitchen, had a 5 course set menu and only did a maximum of 90 covers a night. (Although it was usually 60 or so).
Working on the ship was very hard. Both physcally and emotionally.
The shifts I was working were 7am - 14:30, 16:30 - 23:30......7 days a week!
But the good times did out weigh the bad. I saw alot of beautiful parts of the world that I will never forget and parts of the world that i'll never go back to!!