It was beloved chef-turned-television-star Julia Child who said: “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Whipping up a cheese soufflé or creating the latest trend in pomegranate infusion requires dedication, creativity, and the patience for trial and error. But if you have a developed palate and flair for adventure, a career in the culinary arts could be right up your alley.
Ellen Cameron originally started her post-secondary education in pursuit of a social work degree. “I attended social work in university for three years, but cooking school was my original plan,” she says, adding that she switched programs after realizing her true passion lay in the kitchen. Currently a student in the culinary managementprogram at Humber College, she is on track to receive a two-year diploma and hopes to one day establish her own catering business.
Choosing the right mix
The options are seemingly endless in the culinary field; there are programs from baking and pastry arts to specialization in French regional cuisine. George Brown College offers a postgraduate program in Italian cooking and baking, with a semester abroad in Italy that provides students with an opportunity to immerse themselves in Italy’s language and culture.
Culinary programs also provide skills for a trade that is globally recognized and can lead to international employment. In Canada, cooks and bakers can become Red Seal ceritified, which gives them interprovincial recognition. Regardless of your area of interest, anyone considering a career in the culinary arts should be prepared for hard work.
“The reality of cooking school is pretty close to how I imagined it,” Cameron explains. “I imagined it being fairly strict and hardcore—very early mornings and a strict work ethic. For the most part, I've been right about the early mornings. 5 a.m. is my usual wake up alarm and keeping a strict work ethic has been incredibly important.” She also says that any tardiness is unaccepted and uniforms are expected to be kept clean at all times.
Letting it simmer
This no-nonsense approach in school instills a strong sense of responsibility in students and prepares them for the high expectations placed on chefs in busy kitchens. Long shifts and working evenings and weekends is standard in the food industry, and employers often seek workers with trained specialties, a developed sense of taste and smell, knowledge of dietetics, and speed and accuracy. Students must also be open to criticism, which can be a steep learning curve.
“Taking criticism has been really difficult for me because I'm a fairly sensitive person,” says Cameron, adding that despite this, she has learned to use it to her advantage. Any criticism can be used in a positive way to improve culinary abilities, and that one small improvement could give you an edge over another candidate in this highly competitive field.
Reaping the harvest
While the turnover rate for new restaurants remains quite high, according to a Service Canada report, the demand for chefs is predicted to increase as Canada’s population ages. This is as a result of healthcare providers turning to catering companies for food services. The public’s increasing appetite for trying different fare is also likely to boost chef and sous chef employment.
If establishing your own restaurant is in your plans, enrolling in restaurant or hotel management courses could help prepare you for all aspects of the business. Once trained, cooks generally work for several years before attaining sous chef or chef status.
For Cameron, it’s the opportunity to express herself through cooking that is most appealing. “Every plate is going to be different, taste-wise and in presentation. It's an excellent way to present your skills and express your creativity,” she says.
Her advice for those considering joining the culinary field? “Get ready for a lot of early mornings and stay confident. Confidence is key.”
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