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Can I become a Chef after completing a certificate/diploma course in hotel management?

Olivia from Aspen, Co wrote in and asked if she could be a chef after completing a hotel degree...

So you want to be a chef right after taking a course in hotel management? Let us assume that you do not have years of prior culinary experience. That said….

Of course, you can become a chef after completing a course in hotel management however, you won’t be a very good chef and most likely will not be hired at a high-volume restaurant, catering company, or luxury hotel. You most likely will be hired by a chain restaurant, with little input into how food is prepared or what goes on the menu.

If the question literally refers to a single course in hotel management, then that would be a big NO. At best, you would be hired as a line cook or at a food prep station. A single course will not prepare you for success or respect from peers or line staff. At best, it will prepare you for a basic understanding of the role (and I mean basic.) If you are referring to a four-year college degree, then your chances of success are much better however, I know a number of people who graduated from some of the most highly respected culinary schools in the world, and none of them were hired as chefs right out of school. This is probably because any responsible company hires for experience before they hire for your degree but the two together are the perfect combination. If you were hired by a respectable restaurant or hotel, your chances of failure far outweigh your chances of success unless you have already been working in the industry for years. Why is that you may ask? One reason is lack of experience, the other is the talent pool you swim in.

Simply, you are not the only person receiving a diploma or certificate in hotel management. There are thousands of young people like you graduating at the same time and seeking the same goal and, those with years of prior work experience also aspire to be chefs. Those with prior experience and who are aggressive will be offered the best jobs first. How are you more talented than they are? How do you set yourself apart from those who are graduating with you? You will want to ask yourself and answer these questions.

In my opinion, what you want to do is like someone deciding to run a marathon but have only trained for a 5K. Sure, you can run that marathon, but you pay a high price at the finish line and your odds of failure far outweigh the odds of success.

The bigger question is why would you want to put yourself in such a position with such high responsibility and so little experience? School does not teach you everything and in fact, it teaches you probably less than 25% of what you need to know to be successful. You cannot learn all there is to know about safety and sanitation, purchasing, HR, kitchen equipment, stewarding, chemicals, and all the nuances of proper food storage and food prep in a classroom setting. You need to learn from experience, on the floor, and by those who have more experience than you. You need to make your mistakes and learn from them. Do you really want to do this as a chef right out of school? How will you justify your high salary to your employer, especially when you make mistakes while learning on the job? No one in their right mind will hire a chef and give them the latitude to learn on the job and make mistakes on the company payroll. Don’t misunderstand me however, as everyone makes mistakes on the job, even senior management and every job has something new to learn no matter how long you’ve been working however, when senior management makes an error, it is usually more costly to the company since those decisions affect the big picture rather than a small part of it. Make one too many of the wrong costly errors (like one or two), and you are out of a job.

Do not undervalue the expertise needed to be a successful chef. It’s almost insulting to read that just because you took some courses and earned a certificate, that you can run a commercial kitchen successfully even if you have extraordinary talent. If it were that easy, everyone would do it. The school will teach you how to make some sauces, choose some kitchen tools, and methodology, how certain foods and ingredients interact with other foods & ingredients, etc. However, a classroom can only teach you the basics of what you need to know. Once you learn the basics of the how and why of food preparation, you then have to learn how to apply the basics of food preparation to the bigger picture of the culinary arts (it’s not called the culinary ARTS for nothing. Food preparation is indeed an art created by artists who happen to be chef’s).

I am going to take a wild guess that you are in your 20s and here is why. It always seems that students coming out of college think that they are ready to run the whole show, whether it be culinary, hotel management (or any management), finances, nursing, accounting, medicine, marketing, IT, plumbing, piano building, etc, etc. I was no different. When I was in my 20s and graduated from the best hospitality school in the U.S. (UNLV), I sincerely believed that I was ready and more than qualified to be a General Manager (and that was after I had acquired 1000 hours of work experience prior to graduating.) I found a job as an assistant front office manager (the equivalent of a sous chef) and when the company filed for bankruptcy and I lost my job, I had to take a job as a desk clerk (although it was a luxury resort). I was devastated but determined to work my way up. I quickly learned that had I been hired as the assistant front office manager at the luxury property, I would have failed because of my lack of real-world management skills. The classroom gave me an understanding of management in the perfect world. But real experience showed me what happens in the real world and every day is different than the day before it. After I worked at a few different hotels, I learned that not every property is the same and therefore not managed the same. Kitchens are no different.

The real world is much different than the classroom and the best and most reliable method to be successful is to learn from experience and from those who have experienced. My advice is to find yourself a mentor and learn from their mistakes, learn from and take their advice, and connect with and network with their connections. join associations and meet as many industry peers as possible. Read and absorb as much as you can on culinary. Most importantly, take the time to work every station in the kitchen so you have an understanding of what methods work and which ones do not; what are best practices and what practices to avoid? And learn how every station affects each other. By the time you are actually qualified and ready to be a Chef and run your own kitchen, you will not only have the expertise and confidence needed, but you will also be able to effectively manage and mentor those you manage to success which will translate into your own success, rather than constantly falling, having to pick yourself up and bruising your ego along the journey of applying for job after job.

On the other hand, if you are determined to be a chef right out of the starting gate, just be prepared to learn hard lessons along the way, and hope you are a quick learner.

Best of success to you…

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