cooking up a storm

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Food is his passion and cooking is his life. Luke Michal has made his kitchen his career. But how did he start and what does it take to succeed?

"I started my culinary experience in the South African Army when I was 17 years old. Then I participated in a 14- week culinary course where I learnt about baking, butchery, cooking and confectionery, and even how to build ovens out of clay in a bush environment," said Michal.

"I then worked at the officers' mess."

To get into this position, Michal said it was critical for him to work and get the required experience.

I started acquiring cooking skills while in the South African Defence Force. Then I went to the US and worked in many restaurants in various areas, he explained.

Michal worked in the kitchens as a fry man, broiler man, and line cook, and in the front-of-house as a waiter, maître d', bartender, manager and owner.

His experience enabled him to get a show on BBC Food Eat, which features the latest trends in cooking.

Aspiring chefs can learn the art of cooking by attending a culinary school or working as an apprentice for a chef in a restaurant. Chefs often work at several restaurants getting experience under different mentors before they choose a specialty.

Michal said: "You can get training in school vocational programmes, two-year college [programmes] or four-year college programmes. Chefs and cooks can also be trained in apprenticeship programmes offered by professional culinary institutes.

"There are some large hotels and restaurants that [hold] their own training programmes."

Some people who have taken courses in commercial food preparation are lucky and find a job as a cook or chef without having to spend time in a lower-skilled kitchen job.

Schools and curricula vary, but students usually spend most of their time learning to prepare food through practice.

A head chef will direct a kitchen staff in addition to preparing meals, or start his or her own restaurant.

If a chef is able to cope with the high stress and pressure of the job, he or she is likely to become a head chef within 10 years.

Executive chefs will often partner with financial restaurateurs to open their own restaurants. These top chefs spend more time with patrons and investors than in the kitchen.

There are various descriptions in this profession, which include creating, planning and pricing menus; preparing and cooking food according to a customer's order; arranging and garnishing the food for serving; supervising other kitchen staff; maintaining cleanliness in the workplace; buying food supplies and cooking equipment and keeping records of supplies.

The responsibilities of a chef are often determined by the type of restaurant in which he or she works.