For those of you out there considering a career change, it is a rather important question because really what is the best way to become a professional chef and gain respected employment in the industry? What training do you choose and how much money do you spend?
Let’s start from the beginning - food is your life and that niggling feeling you should be sacking in everything to pursue it full time won't go away so you decide to just. do. it. No matter how many people tell you otherwise.
Having researched all routes into the Chef world, I settled on two schools and needed to make a quick decision to get signed up. This was no mean feat, because in London there are two main contenders, and for each the cost is astronomic. Tante Marie and Leiths, both of which last year in 2013 you were looking to pay around £15,000 in fees alone. Couple that with rent prices in London and you soon realise that to survive a 6 month course you are facing probably another five grand in rent in addition to any travel costs and god forbid, socialising and miscellaneous expenditure.
There is a cheaper course, but for that you are required to be under the age of 25 to hit criteria. Westminster Kingway offer NVQ Level 1, 2 and 3 along with a professional diploma, a selection of which you can undertake for under £4000.00. Sadly, I couldn't, but even if I could, I'd be reluctant because when you search for the best cookery schools in the country you get a list that looks like this:
§ Tante Marie
§ Le Cordon Bleu
§ Ashburton Cookery School
§ Newlyns Cookery School
§ Orchards Cookery
§ Blackheath Cooks
Tante Marie and Leiths are regularly heralded as the best, so far as my research concluded.
Based in Woking - Surrey, around a 20 minute train journey from Clapham Junction. Marginally cheaper fees but once you factor in transport the effect of this saving is negligible. A longstanding outfit offering Le Cordon Bleu, before Le Cordon Bleu school set up in the UK thus meaning it’s the only school outside of Le Cordon Bleu where you can get A Cordon Bleu diploma. I don’t expect this translates to a significant benefit, it’s simple terminology but that might mean something in the future. The style is very classic, a hands on approach with 70 / 80% practical cooking time. A 2 day course in wine and spirits, small classes and the two term diploma assumes no prior knowledge starting your training from scratch.
Based in Hammersmith – London. Higher fees, bigger brand – household name. The purveyors of a fine range of Asda taste the difference goods developed by the school itself. Contemporary looking food and an ultra-modern school. Larger classes and a lower rate of 50% practical cooking time, allowing for demonstrations as a learning tool. Visits to Billingsgate and Smithfields are organised perks as well as gaining a WSET certificate. Larger classes and should you wish to undertake the two term intensive diploma then since the course does not start from scratch, depending on your cookery experience you may be required to undertake lessons with a private chef, at a cost, to ensure that you are at a base standard when you start the course.
Update: Despite writing this over a year and a half ago, I understand the merits and drawbacks to be the same. I ended up at Tante Marie.