Cook | Youth Central

Adam, 32

It's over 45ºC in the tiny kitchen where Adam, clad in a long black apron, is baking the day's muffins. He's worked as a cook for 13 years in the UK and Australia, on oilrigs, in restaurants, pubs and cafes, and for catering companies. "A chef means that you're in charge of the kitchen. Other than that, everyone's a cook," he explains.

What's a typical working day involve?

Making muffins kick-starts Adam's day, then he works his way through the "prep list". "What you prep depends on what you sell the day before but I might make soup, curries, pizza toppings and bake cakes. I pretty much have to do everything because it's a small kitchen," he says. Other typical tasks include washing dishes and cleaning the fridges, shelves, ovens and grills. "I also record temperatures from the thermometers in the fridges at the start and end of each day, and record the temperatures of deliveries when they arrive." This is in accordance with HACCP regulations - the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACPP) is a system for preventing food safety hazards.

Currently, Adam works about 40 hours a week but has worked about 50 or 60 hours a week in other jobs. Typically, he works a mix of nights and days, and weekdays and weekends. "Split shifts can blow the hours out to 70," he says. Split shifts mean taking the afternoon off between lunch and dinner.

Adam works with chefs, other cooks, baristas (coffee-makers), waiters and food suppliers.

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

A highlight of Adam's career was cooking for Paul McCartney. "I was working in a vegetarian restaurant in London. Paul personally thanked all the staff," Adam says. He's also cooked for Moby and Jude Law.

Adam lists the highs of cooking as the creativity, not having to answer to anyone, the adrenalin rush of service, free beers and food, and building close relationships with the kitchen team.

Negatives include the physically tough environment. "It's very hot and during service you can't take a break if you've got dockets [orders] lined up." He also mentions the long hours, low wages, and that weekend work impacts on your social life.

How did you become a cook?

"I started washing dishes in high school and that continued throughout uni. When I dropped out of my engineering degree I was still working in kitchens and was offered an apprenticeship. I always thought I'd only give it a year, but I really enjoyed it," Adam laughs. "But it's definitely a love-hate relationship."

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

"Lots of energy," Adam says, "And you have to be intelligent. Not academically smart, but you have to adjust very quickly to things that you're doing." Other qualities include physical and mental stamina, and being quick thinking and thick-skinned. "There can be heated tempers through service but 'what happens in service stays in service,'" he says. "You have to be able to not take it personally."

Are there any tips for getting a job as a cook?

"You can either do a TAFE course or start working as a kitchen hand and apply directly to restaurants. It's better to work as a kitchen hand first," Adam says, "People who do a cooking course and then go in to the real world tend to struggle because the pressure isn't simulated at school. You have to get used to being screamed at, the heat, noise and fast pace," he says. "Doing a free trial is a way to show that you're keen," he suggests. "But you have to be passionate about cooking. It's not a job you do for the sake earning money."

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