Nice food, hard job – a master chef’s daily duties

Presenting a Day in the Life of a Master Chef.

Why is Jamie Oliver so popular? He must be the Nr.1 for everyone who works in gastronomy sphere and even for those who just simply eager to cook at home. But how can be Jamie’s life as a chef? I visited a recognized Hungarian master chef, Kálmán Kocsonya,  in order to ask him how his daily life in business looks like.

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As everyone has to climb the ladder of success, being a master chef has also its own steps. Kálmán Kocsonya had already proved his talent; he has being possessed the master title for 14 years now. Mr. Kocsonya is a well-known chef in his field: he was the former vice-president of the Hungarian National Gastronomic Association, won the title ‘Gastronome of the Year’ in 2008 and had worked for the government holiday resort at Balatonőszöd for years thus he had the opportunity to cook for numerous foreign presidents, leaders, and celebrities. He also took part in numerous festivals, home and foreign competitions. Due to them, he managed to attain the custom of other nations’ gastronomy. Among others, he had worked in Portugal, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand and Switzerland.

Mr. Kocsonya initiated me into the mysteries of his profession. As he passionately talked about his trade, it appeared that one, who fancies doing this job, has to meet strict requirements. The first criterion is to posses a trade school certificate in being a chef. The second one is to work in this field for at least 10 years. If these two criteria stand then applying for the master exam is accomplishable.

But what it is about exactly? Master exam is the final big challenge at the end of the ‘tour’, which is based on three different sets. One of them is built on business factual materials, such as economic, legal and labour knowledge as well as pedagogical consciousness. The other fraction of the exam is made up of professional theory. For this section examiners need to know how to run a kitchen successfully and how to save food and energy. Last but not least, the third part involves professional practice when chefs are given the chance to show their talent in front of the committee who will decide whether their creation meet the requirements or not.

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If someone is a master, usually he is the leader of the given catering establishment where he works. Early mornings, when the chef arrives, he takes all the information into consideration and on the basis of that he distributes the different range of duties. He needs to know whether there is a special programme on that day and being aware of this he tries to estimate the that day’s business.

The chef of a kitchen possesses the overall responsibility. Although seemingly food is the main concept of a kitchen, it is far from the only responsibility. Simply having an eye on food does not make one a chef. Chef’s duties cover the food-orders and takeovers, planning, controlling, checking, menu developing, ranging of employee training, as well as budgeting. Thus a good organization skill is indispensable for a master.

A kitchen is like a pyramid, everybody depends on others; if base is missing, there is no chance to build up the whole. Starting a day includes buying or – if there is no time for that – receiving goods. The first step is for prep cooks, who make useable products from raw materials, providing the chefs and cooks the base products for the everyday usage.

A busy kitchen is the perfect place of multitasking and tension. Chefs and cooks have to pay incredible attention to details; they have to be precise and quick at the same time as the guests are basically waiting for them. Each cook is responsible for creating any number of appetizers, salads or desserts. All the while they need to take into account not just the taste but the visual appeal of each dish too.  Besides, chefs need to pay attention to timing, they must know how to arrange it that your well done pork chop finishes in the same time as your brother’s bloody steak, as well as your Granny’s spring salad. In addition, chefs need to leave enough time for appetizers and should not be late with desserts. Thus there must be a stretched atmosphere ‘behind the scenes’ pushed by a stepped-up plan. Imagine, while one cook prepares 15 different slices of meat at the same time all of which have to be done at the given temperature, following strict regulations, until then the other one is busy to remembering how many type of pasta he is working on. And all of this happens in a 110° closed space, next to the boiling oil, razor sharp knives and hasty servers who wanted the all to be done with the least possible delay.

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However, when everything goes well and guests are satisfied, there is nothing like being part of the team. According to Mr. Kocsonya, it is well worth working hard and with pleasure if they can hear such a compliment from the guest that the food was excellent and all the serving was unforgettable. Mr. Kocsonya believes that giving full satisfaction to guests is more important than the profit. He also proclaims that “taking of food is more than just the means of life; it is rather a natural source of joy”.

Chefs choose their vocation because they have a passion for food, an insatiable desire to express themselves through cooking. The aim of their line is making as many people as possible enjoy the fruits of their labour.

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