By Patrick Flanagan
When I first started in the industry, I was one of 40 chefs in a kitchen. Today, the average number of chefs in the restaurant kitchens across Ireland has dramatically reduced, most now operate with only five team members.
Various factors impacted on our sector momentously over the past few years and in order to survive restaurateurs and chefs had to re-adapt, some changes were for the betterment of our industry but some have the potential to throw our reputation as a good food nation into question.
One of the reasons the National Commis Chef Programme was created was to deliver professionally trained chefs to ensure the continued success of the Irish hospitality and tourism industry. Recent figures from the Restaurant Association of Ireland revealed an urgent need for 5,000 new professional chefs each year by 2020.
In 2014, over 24,000 chefs were employed in Ireland and the majority of jobs in the hospitality sector directly relate to the food services sector so the fact that each year, just 1,800 chefs qualify from certified culinary training programmes – it’s worrying for the industry.
Although formal programmes are a great source of training, much of a chef’s education comes from on-the job experience and mentoring. It is through their professional experience that chefs develop their keen sense of taste and smell and cultivate their creativity and skills.
Would-be chefs need the type of skills that will allow them to hit the ground running in the real world environment of a kitchen.
What does it take to become a Chef?
First of all, the reality of being a chef reaches much further than creating picture-ready, aesthetic looking food master-pieces that rocket their way through social media channels. All chefs need a high degree of training and professional experience before they are able to manage and maintain their own operation.
Becoming and being a chef, a real hands-on and in-it-to-win-it chef, is not for the faint hearted. To a degree, it involves putting on your thick skin each morning and persevering because you believe in what you are doing and have a constant hunger to keep improving, learning and cooking food that makes people go mmmmmm! The greatest qualities an individual entering into the industry can have are stamina, dedication, patience and a strong threshold for stress!
It’s a vocation. This is one of the few industries that you can’t apply a ‘fake it, till you make it’ philosophy. The passion is inherently there and that’s why it’s so important we commit to ensuring those entering our kitchens receive a solid and practical foundation, based on what those in the industry are telling us we need.
The National Commis Chef Programme
The National Commis Chef Apprenticeship is a two–year full time formal education and training programme that will enable learners to begin their careers as professional chefs. It is led and supported by the key stakeholders in the Irish Hospitality sector, namely the IHF and the RAI. Students will gain an internationally recognised qualification. The apprenticeship incorporates periods of off-the-job knowledge and skills development with work-based knowledge and skills development in an approved hotel or restaurant kitchen. Apprentices will develop the theory, science and culinary skills and put these skills into practice under the mentorship of qualified and experienced chefs in the kitchens of SOLAS approved hotels and restaurants.
Patrick Flanagan honed his culinary skills in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White and Michel Roux Snr.
More information regarding the National Commis Chef programme can be found here or http://www.apprenticeship.ie/en/apprentice/Pages/commis-chef.aspx .