Chefs are responsible for training and managing kitchen personnel, supervising and coordinating all culinary activities, and making the administrative decisions for a restaurant. The most important of these responsibilities is to ensure that quality culinary dishes are served on schedule and to see that any problems that arise are rectified. As such, the executive chef is responsible for approving all prepared food items that leave the kitchen.
Tasks that chefs may perform include:
Chefs may also cook selected items or for select occasions. They may oversee special catering events and offer culinary instruction or demonstrate culinary techniques. They directly supervise kitchen personnel with responsibility for hiring, discipline, performance reviews and initiating pay increases. Typically, an chef reports to a food service director.
Since executive chefs hold a high position in the culinary industry, they are usually required to have 7-8 years of previous related experience. Ideally, executive chefs should have a bachelor’s degree in the culinary arts or in a related area, such as hospitality. A Grade 10 certificate or a National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite, depending on the chosen course of study. Many chefs have only a 2-year degree and rely on additional work experience to improve their career opportunities. Other chefs get their start through on-the-job training or apprenticeship programmes and work their way up without completing any formal education.
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended:
• Hospitality Studies
• Physical Science
False Bay TVET College
National Certificate: Hospitality and Catering Services N4 - N6
Capsicum Culinary Studio
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Hospitality Management: Professional Cookery; Food Technology
University of Johannesburg
Food Technology; Hospitality Management
Tshwane University of Technology
Why did you decide to work with food?
Since I was old enough to stand I’ve always been at my mom’s side in the kitchen, getting involved. She was always there to answer my millions of questions and teach me to about my heritage (which is Portuguese, Italian and Greek) and how to appreciate food. For generations our family has been involved with food, with my great granny starting the first pasta factory in Mozambique. By the time I matriculated I knew I wanted to be a chef.
What training did you undergo?
I graduated top of my class at the International Hotel School and did practical training at the Royal Hotel, Beverly Hills Hotel and Havana Grill. After opening my own business, Chow Now, selling gourmet sandwiches to companies in Durban, Disney World offered me a one-year contract to work in their top hotel with free college (professional cookery and kitchen management). My thirst for knowledge led me to Ireland where I worked in top restaurant La Fougeure for seven months. Back home I worked at Vanille in Kloof as senior sous chef and then Spiga D’Oro as head chef, before taking over the kitchen and pub at Thunder Road Rock Diner. As executive chef of Heritage Theatre I get to work in the supper theatre and the outside catering company.
What type of personality is best suited to this work?
It’s hard, demanding work but passion drives you. You need confidence and you have to be motivated and flexible. This job is not for people who take criticism to heart and get offended by it – you need to be able to use it constructively. You have to be able to handle pressure.
Is experience as important as formal training?
Formal training is important as it gives you the basics, but it is experience that teaches you the on-the spot decisions and how to cope under pressure. In this industry the more experience you have, the easier it becomes.
Describe your typical day
It changes depending on if we have a new show coming in, or an outside catering job. Generally I start work at about 10am – placing orders, designing menus and doing costings. From 2pm, when the kitchen staff arrive, I work with them in the kitchen doing prep work for our starter servings from 7pm. While the first half of the show is on we prepare desserts which are served at interval time. After the show I like to take time to chat to the guests and get feedback on the food.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I have the ability to grow and push myself in any direction I see fit in the culinary field, whether it’s doing cooking demonstrations, writing cook books or developing new menus and dishes.
Mention one of your career highlights
Being presented with a Chaine Des Rotisseurs plate as an award for high quality and well-presented food. Winning an industry award is a huge privilege.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
Actually, I didn’t ‘choose’ to…the job chose me! After I left the navy, I went to work as a waiter at the Mount Nelson Hotel. I discovered I really liked the environment and wanted to do more. In all fairness though, there must have been a little osmosis from my family environment too. My dad was a pastry chef – he worked for Bakers for over 30 years, so there was always food, cooking and baking going on around me.
What training did you undergo?
I have had no formal training. All my training was done in-service at The Royal Hotel in Durban under the famous chef Werner Koch, and at various restaurants including the Peninsula Hotel in Cape Town, where I was the executive chef. I have been at The Oyster Box Hotel (a member of the Red Carnation Group) for eight years.
Describe a typical day on the job
Get to the office at about 8am; attend the hotel’s morning management meeting; about an hour on emails and admin; a walk around the kitchen; check stock, purchasing, prepping for the day; do a fridge check to ensure that everything meets the strict health and safety standards; visit the banqueting department to check on functions for the day, stocks, etc; during the lunch service, I work on the pass, assist with plating and prep; check on guests eating in our various restaurants and chat to them regarding their meals, service, etc; back to paperwork for another hour or so, as the night shift comes on duty; between 3:30pm and 4pm the whole process starts all over again.
What traits should a chef have?
You have to be outgoing, and have an adventurous spirit and a natural curiosity.
Your favourite part of the job is…
That I have contact with so many different people every day, and the multitude of challenges that brings with it.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
Opening the new Oyster Box Hotel in 2009. I was responsible for the design, planning and installation of all the bars, restaurants and kitchens, as well as planning all the menus for all of the six food and beverage outlets (besides room service) that operate at the hotel.
Your future goals?
To retire to a cottage on a wine farm in Cape Town and run a small restaurant serving fresh, home-made food and great, local wine.
Any advice for newcomers?
Always keep the mindset that being a chef is a passion, not a science!
Describe your job in three words
Exciting • Challenging • Gratifying