My name is Expat Pug and I am the younger sister of Expat Panda, The Middle Child and The oldest of my Triplet Siblings- Penguin and Seal.
Just like Panda, I also moved to Dubai for work. What do I do? As you may have guessed by the title, I am currently a Pastry Chef at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dubai. WAIT- Stop gasping and being impressed… why do people do that anyway? No one seems fazed when Panda says she is a teacher but when I mention that I’m a chef, suddenly its, “WOW!” and “THAT’S AMAZING” as if I had just said I was half Greek god or part mermaid.
Being a chef is actually just like any other job albeit with a bit more behind the scenes work than others but still- a regular of someone who is passionate about food and people. So in order to answer some of the ridiculous questions I have heard over the years and as per Panda’s requests I have decided to address the five most common misconceptions about chefs and I think you will be surprised by what you think goes on in a kitchen versus the reality.
You always love to cook
Did you know that we do not ALWAYS WANT TO COOK? Yes its true!! Newsflash- chefs are human beings too and just because we’ve made our passions our jobs, does not mean we love to cook all the time. Imagine fixing cars as a mechanic for 9 hours a day and then coming home and having to fix your partner’s car for another 4 hours? Sounds tedious doesn’t it? Well that’s how we feel.
We love our job within the hours we’re required to do it, however when it comes to cooking or baking outside of work, we seldom enjoy it. Chefs tend to be very selective about when and where they cook whenever its outside of work, and for good reasons too. We are just like everybody else who has a demanding job and wants to come home and relax after a long day of work. We really don’t want to be planning what to cook when we get home, stuck in the kitchen making dinner and we definitely don’t want to spend our only day off in the week, baking for Aunty Patsy’s family function (where a million people will judge my dish because I am a chef so everything I must produce is exemplary).
Often, the food that chefs cook for themselves is quite simple and down-to-earth, since we’re almost always tired of creating and tasting fancy food at work and when we go out. For me, and most other chefs I know, nothing beats simple home cooked meals we grew up with (thinking of my mother’s spicy lentils or dad’s spaghetti casserole).
Its like a reality TV show
Although it is tempting to assume this but working in the kitchen does not resemble the chaotic likes of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” or the laid back motions of Jamie Oliver’s “The Naked Chef”. No one is constantly screaming insults at you while you cook and neither can you just throw in whatever ingredients that you feel like. Rather, it is a very structured and well-planned work process, with recipes that enable you to maximize time and put five-star food on a table without complications. You might be surprised to know that working in a kitchen means you have to be EXTREMELY organized, alert, clean and most importantly; fast. Yes, working in the kitchen requires a lot of discipline and control.
Our work processes are derived from terminology used in the military such as; “Brigade” (referring to the hierarchy of colleagues within a kitchen department) and “Line Up” (The daily informal meeting we have with our Head of Department to discuss work for the day and current events in the operation). There are different levels to being a chef depending on your rank and role within the kitchen and just like in the army, this is reflected in your uniform and responsibilities.
A lot of people think being a chef is a very emotionally abusive and/or competitive job. Its actually not at all; it’s surprisingly gratifying and you make some of the closest friends you’ll ever have, seeing as how your 16 hour shifts require most of your day with them. Yes, we do use some profane language during stressful times and we are known to be very hot-headed when it comes to food, but in general chefs are very easy-going and amicable people. You have to be when you are working in a team all day, everyday! Working with food is always stressful, but you have to manage that stress and you have to be confident enough to see your dish right through from start to finish.
You don’t need a qualification to be a chef
This kind of assumption is RIDICULOUS. It’s like saying “You don’t need a qualification to be a teacher or a lawyer” …. both jobs require skill and knowledge, so why is it that when it comes to culinary, people assume we don’t need a formal qualification? Let me say that people need to understand the difference between someone who can cook well and someone who is a chef.
Understanding how to maximize kitchen time, work efficiently, maintain hygiene standards, mass produce dishes as well as all the other technical aspects of the work process to the hierarchical environment is not something you magically learn if you cook well in your kitchen no matter how large or impressive it may be. My brother is an excellent cook but throw him into a hotel kitchen and without the necessary knowledge, he wouldn’t be able to cook a thing. The general consensus is that most chefs just throw some food on a plate, make it look attractive and then swindle you out of your money at the end of a meal. In reality, its not just food slapped on a fancy plate: its ingredients that have been carefully selected, budgeted for and incorporated into a dish to make the flavours come alive in your mouth and linger in your memory.
Most people don’t understand the amount of work involved in creating a simple three course menu and executing it. Look it’s not just about choosing three dishes your guests MAY like. It’s about selecting a cuisine, picking dishes with flavors that complement each other, choosing the best possible ingredients within a tight budget, electing reliable suppliers for those ingredients, training chefs to prepare dishes, preparing attractive garnishes, pricing the dish, not to mention trials upon trials before we get perfection and so much more. The extensive process goes on and on depending on where you work, and the method behind creating food is not as easy as everyone assumes it to be. Therefore, having a culinary qualification gives us the best foundation to provide our guests with the best possible culinary experience. Proper education is always important.
Often people (usually brown in complexion) looked down on me for not choosing to become a doctor, or an engineer or something with a Bachelor’s degree involved in it. Having a diploma has always carried a certain stigma and everyone asks “Why not a degree?”
Well let me tell everyone: there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with getting a diploma, a certificate, a high school education. If you have education in your head, you’re more privileged than a large population of our world. The country in which I studied did not recognize Culinary Arts as a Bachelor’s Degree and most countries don’t. Having a Professional Cookery and Kitchen Management Diploma does not make me less qualified to produce five-star quality food. You are most welcome to sample any of my desserts to know that. After all, I graduated and started working at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai… uh where did you say your bachelor’s degree took you?
All chefs are experts on all kinds of food
As a Pastry Chef, its safe for me to say that I don’t know every single recipe in the world and no, I don’t always know what’s going to make your curry/roast/satay come out incredible. I can however, tell you what went wrong with your blueberry muffins and why they feel like rocks or advise you between basic buttercream frosting or Italian meringue buttercream for your friend’s birthday cake (yes there is a difference). The point I’m trying to make- if I haven’t made you hungry already- is that each chef has his/her own specific knowledge of the culinary arts based on their job, qualification and experience. Since I have a general Professional Cookery Diploma, I have a basic knowledge of hot foods, cold salads and desserts. However, my current job as a Pastry Chef and my experience in the past 3 years, has awarded me with an extensive knowledge of desserts, pastries and breads.
I am still new to my job, and I am learning every single day; as you learn and grow in the culinary industry you develop knowledge from all kinds of kitchens and methods of cooking, this enables a chef to climb the ladder and become The Head Chef one day. So odds are if you ask an executive chef about multiple types of food, he/she will be able to give you a solid answer BUT just remember this doesn’t come easy- it requires experience and knowledge. Just as everybody in life has their niche, so do chefs, although we will always be there to recommend the most promising dish on the menu.
Another one of my creations!
Chefs earn a lot of money
It is true that the hospitality industry is an expanding and constantly evolving industry in which there is always an opportunity to make money. This does not necessarily mean that chefs are well paid for the services they provide. For starters, the amount of money you earn is based on the position you fill within the hierarchy of your kitchen. And secondly; the minimum wage for a chef in the current economy of the world is average, considering the overtime and effort we put into our jobs. Most chefs get paid by the hour and working hours are supposed to be 9 hours a day however our jobs always demand at least 4 or 5 hours overtime. For most chef’s (in the UAE) getting paid for overtime is a far-fetched dream and If you’re a chef that gets paid overtime, you’re extremely lucky and rare. You work until your assigned tasks are completed no matter how long that takes you. We do happen to save a lot of money since we’re almost always working however we are known to splurge on food when we are too lazy to cook for ourselves (refer back to point number 1).
As a chef, my job is just like anybody else’s; I have my ups and downs and sometimes I dread going to work at 5am; but on some days I’m super pumped to create new desserts for my hotel. Being a chef is not an easy job because not only are you on your feet for long hours, but its physically, mentally and emotionally stressful. At the end of the day it is all worth it because we love what we do and why we do it. Food is an art and an important aspect of everyone’s lives, why not be the person to touch somebody’s life with what you’ve made? The next time you meet a chef, for good or bad reasons, remember how much we value your taste buds and want to give you a dining experience that’s not only well worth your money but also exceeds your expectations so you will rave about it for many years to come!
What are the most common misconceptions you had about chefs? And did this post clarify them for you? Les us know in the comments below!
P.S. My sister made all the food pictured in this post… she is talented right?