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DD(18) wants to become a chef - how?

(28 Posts)
MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 18:41:21

She's in her 2nd year at 6th form college and not enjoying it much. She's never been very academic - I hoped studying new subjects at AS/A level might be more interesting for her, but it's really not. Her AS results were fairly atrocious (C, E, U) and she's decided now she'd like to train as a professional chef/cook.

I'm finding it quite hard to get my head round the various options so I wondered if the good folk of MN had any wisdom to spare? It seems to me that the choices are:
1. HND/NVQ/City&Guilds at a local college, but as these seem geared to 16 year olds, she wouldn't want to do that.
2. Apprenticeships - we live in a rural location so there's a pretty limited choice of these. The work experience would obviously be good, but would this training limit her future career options to restaurants/hotels/pubs of the same type to where she trained?
3. University - a few places offer diplomas or degrees in professional cooking/baking. A 2 or 3 year training sounds good, and it would allow her the uni experience of being with people her own age and away from home, but of course there are the fees. And are these degrees respected by possible employers?
4. Private cookery schools - places like Leith's or Tante Marie offer 1 year courses. They cost a lot, but comparable to uni. Their websites suggest they have the contacts to get their students into fantastic jobs, but then they would say that, wouldn't they? Are these places any good, or only for the rich and well-connected?

I'm so confused! Any thoughts on these options - or any others you can suggest! - will be gratefully received!

AndNoneForGretchenWieners Wed 11-Jan-17 18:45:10

DS wanted to be a chef and intended to do a level 3 professional cookery course at college. It's equivalent to A level but with practical work experience. Sadly the course wasn't running locally but it might be an option? If she doesn't have a level 2 qualification in catering or cookery she may need to do that first (DS did GCSE).

MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 18:55:04

Thanks, AndNoneForGretchenWieners , that's worth looking into.

MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 19:21:42


Keepingupwiththejonesys Wed 11-Jan-17 19:27:15

I trained as a chef in house. I worked my way up from pot wash to head chef, jobs like that you often have to work your way up. I did NVQs I was 18 when is started them and was nowhere near the oldest doing them.

Keepingupwiththejonesys Wed 11-Jan-17 19:29:06

I terms of the training limiting her to them sort of places, no not at all. It would be a positive as she would be getting experience as well as getting the qualifications. Experience in this field of work is as important as the qualifications

Gooseberryfools Wed 11-Jan-17 19:35:03

Harper Adams uni has a wide variety of food related degrees.

car1sberg Wed 11-Jan-17 19:36:19


ComputerUserNumptyTwit Wed 11-Jan-17 19:41:22

Talk to the colleges. Ds is doing a vocational, HNC-level course post-GCSE (different subject entirely though) and there are people in their twenties in his year. I did an HNC myself a few years ago (again, different subject) and nobody was under 18.

I would strongly advise trying to get work in a restaurant though, as soon as is feasible. An apprenticeship would be ideal - that's how pretty much all the British chefs I know started out. They've all moved about between naice places and very naice places, and a few are now head chefs who've made names for themselves.

DorothyBastard Wed 11-Jan-17 19:46:18

DH is a head chef. He started washing pots at 15. Many chefs come up the ranks that way. You've only to show a bit of enthusiasm and you can set yourself apart and work your way up. It's bloody hard work through and not a career I'd recommend to anyone

MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 19:47:39

So Keeping and Computer, the experience gained as an apprentice would be more use than a degree/diploma on its own, you think?

KeepCalm Wed 11-Jan-17 19:48:08

I run my own place completely self taught. Anyone we take on we put through their SVQs to help them move on.

A few have come from professional cookery courses (college HNC/HND level) and whilst seemed to enjoy their courses have no practical experience.

One of our local colleges is now running a 'general cookery & baking' course which would be ideal for us so have offered up work experience if they want the help.

Local colleges are your best bet alongside a job somewhere that will support her in a practical sense.

KeepCalm Wed 11-Jan-17 19:49:58

Oh and HNC/HND absolutely not geared for 16yr olds. I've had adults through for work experience doing them.

You CAN go as a school leaver but it's not exclusively for them.

It would also count as entry level study to uni etc if she choose that route.


MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 19:50:33

Dorothy yes, I'm certainly not cut out for it, but it's what she wants.

MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 19:52:49

Thanks, KeepCalm, I think we need to talk to our local college and see what they say but it sounds as if I've had the wrong idea about them.

Fairylea Wed 11-Jan-17 19:57:18

Has she had any actual experience of working in a professional kitchen? It is such an intense and stressful job I think before she makes any decisions she would be best to find some part time work as a kitchen porter or pot washer to give her a taste of what it's like.

I've worked in restaurants and catering most of my life and the best chefs I've known have never gone to college as such, they have all just worked their way up from the bottom. Saying that the head chef at one place I worked did have a city and guilds qualification but this was a huge hotel, 300-400 regularly for lunch etc etc.

I think it depends on what she wants to do but experience really is everything.

ReturnoftheWhack Wed 11-Jan-17 19:59:02

I'm a Careers Advisor and would definitely recommend the local FE courses, they are predominantly school leavers but not exclusively and she is only just over the year older than them - assuming she has gone to do her A Levels straight from school?

As previously mentioned, she may not be able to go straight onto level 3, regardless of her GCSE's/AS levels. Professional cookery is a "progressive" course meaning she needs to learn the skills at a lower level. She will also need to demonstrate at interview her interest in it. It's worth looking at local colleges now, some will have offered January starts.

A couple of other things for her to consider:

What area of the industry would she like to get into?
Does she want to travel?
How will she handle the unsociable hours?
Can she imagine herself in the heated (excuse the pun) kitchen environment?
What is it that appeals to her about the job?

She really needs some work experience too, if she's not going now and starting in September she needs to be looking for work as a KP....anything in the hospitality industry would be good.

A degree is not necessary to be successful, it's a tough, highly competitive industry though - she needs to be prepared to put in the hours to do well.

Good luck!

Keepingupwiththejonesys Wed 11-Jan-17 20:07:20

Yes, I think in this field experience counts for alot and can be more important. Most chefs start right at the bottom and work up. Its good to watch and learn for a while before jumping in and starting yourself. I will say that you should have a proper chat with your dd about if this is something she really wants to make her life about. Its not like a 9-5 job where you go to work, do the job for the set hours and come home. The hours are often quite long and unsociable, I used to work 11am-10pm most shift. Not terrible but its your full day gone really. Also, depending what role you're doing you often take the work home, I used to don't he menus etc in my own time. You can be asked to work at a moments notice and its frowned upon if you say no and don't really have a 'good' reason. It does work both ways though and you often find people are willing to swap and change shifts. Its very tiring and can be stressful.

Despite all that I loved my job and thoroughly enjoyed my time doing it, its rewarding. I haven't worked since having children though and it simply wouldn't be possible to do the same role I was doing now, I'd never see my family and childcare costs would swallow all my wage and more!

Postagestamppat Wed 11-Jan-17 20:07:20

DH is a chef and I agree with previous posters. Start at the bottom. Ask how to make a soup during quiet times. Build up a book of receipes. Work your arse off. Try not to become an alcoholic. Be prepared to be sworn at multiple times a day. Swear back to stand your ground. Don't get pissed off when the pretty waitresses earn more than you through tips. Don't be surprised when your marriage breaks down. Earn fuck all money, but have access to free/cheap booze through the restaurant/pub network. Enjoy the entertainment value of your slightly bonkers work mates.

It is a hard, back-breaking and thankless job. The traditional career routes of education don't apply. There is such a demand for chefs (being paid a pittance) that you could make up anything and still be employed (references count for nothing in this field). It is all based on work ethic, ability at that moment and turning up. Good luck. She'll need it - especially as a young girl. I'd be eaten up in minutes.

PS On a more positive note a chef mate of DH has got a star for his own restaurant. He is completely self taught and very happily married with a child.

ComputerUserNumptyTwit Wed 11-Jan-17 20:12:42

The bonus with an apprenticeship (aside from the work experience) is that she'll get paid. Absolutely worth looking into.

I'm not a chef by the way, but I did spend many years front of house (and yes, earning more money than most of the chefs).

MrsBodger Wed 11-Jan-17 21:26:02

Sorry - life got in the way! But really useful points from all of you. Thanks, Fairylea, Return, Keeping, Postage and Computer.
Lots to think about.

In terms of the long antisocial hours, do you know if pastry chefs have it any easier?

cdtaylornats Wed 11-Jan-17 22:53:13

This years professional masterchef winner is a full-time lecturer at City of Glasgow College.

ReturnoftheWhack Thu 12-Jan-17 16:55:15

Well, patisserie chefs can be up at 4am to make bread for morning service so it would depend what your idea of antisocial is!

I would really recommend looking into Apprenticeships further. The most employable people are actually the ones who are BOTH most qualified AND experienced. In the past, experience would have you got far but nowadays I strongly believe you'll be pipped to the post by someone who has both.

TeenAndTween Thu 12-Jan-17 19:05:02

DD's college does a Hospitality & Catering course where they run a fancy restaurant open to paying customers at cheap prices. They switch between the cooking side and the front of house. So as well as getting their L2 / L3 qualification they get real experience working under pressure etc.
Not everyone on the course is a fresh faced 16yo, so I agree with the posters above who say check with your college what the age range really is.

KeepCalm Thu 12-Jan-17 20:21:53

Pastrychefs don't have it easier tbh. I'm in at 7am every day and we refuse to bake our own bread etc otherwise we'd be there at stupid o'clock!

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