Take a popular industry like the culinary arts, and there will be always be plenty of people who want to work in it. How do you set yourself apart?
Chef Matthew Basford sums it up: “hard work and dedication.” He speaks from experience. He’s now executive chef at the award-winning Canoe Restaurant, an apprenticeship site for students in the Culinary Apprenticeship Certificate program, but he began as a culinary apprentice himself in Australia. Matthew is also a member of our advisory board and happy to share some free advice for aspiring culinary professionals.
How long have you been in the culinary industry?
I have been in the industry from when I was 16. I started as a dishwasher and have worked through the ranks … from dish washing through to line cook, sous chef and executive chef.
Do apprenticeships work as a teaching and training method?
Apprenticeships are a great way to work your way into the industry … to immerse yourself and learn. The apprenticeship is what is used in Australia, and that is what I am accustomed to. Hard work and dedication helped me move up the ranks. Apprenticeships are also a way to learn as you go. Rather than trying to learn everything at once you can slowly digest the information being taught to you.
What do KSU Culinary students learn during their apprenticeships at Canoe?
The students are free to learn as much as they want. I don’t stick to a set structure. I have learned that every student is looking to obtain slightly different information from me. I am happy to teach anybody who wants to learn.
How can apprenticeships and culinary education help you advance?
It is like most things in the world: you can take as much or little from anything you do. The instructors at the school are willing to pass along the information and knowledge they possess. The same rings true for the practical side and working in the kitchen. Without [the fundamentals], it is more difficult to progress and try new things. The instructors have the ability to pass along knowledge in a more structured setting while I can pass along information on practical, on-the-job knowledge. They also have the ability to learn from others that they come in contact with, and not just one person.
What about getting a job?
If a student shows dedication to the craft, it can certainly lead to employment. If you show me you want to learn, and are happy to work hard, it would be a disservice to not hire you or find you suitable employment.
Experience and education help but are not always the only thing I look for when hiring people. I look for progression in their career, taking steps to get to the end result they are looking for. The desire to work and work hard is the most fundamental ingredient any culinary student can possess. I can teach you how to cook and how I want it cooked; but if you don’t have the desire to work and learn, you will only go so far in this industry.
Any final advice for those trying to break into the field?
Be humble. That can mean starting at the bottom. You need to work your way through the industry and respect those you work with and show them that you care.