With another baking battle about to take place on BBC1, this popular series will no doubt have fans salivating over their TV sets for the rest of the summer and into the autumn.
For education, the Great British Bake Off brings to the public’s attention the significant amount of skill involved in professional baking, and catering in general. Unfortunately, this industry has seen something of a setback over recent years, with some restaurants already in a crisis due to a shortage of skilled chefs.
However, being a chef or a baker are not the only options – the catering industry serves up a wide range of roles, including food writer, butcher, housekeeper, waiter and food scientist.
So if a life in (or outside) the kitchen tantalises your taste-buds, we show you how to satisfy your appetite, without having to hedge your bets on applying for the next GBBO and trying to get yourself noticed on national television.
1. Make sure you’ve got all the ingredients
Let’s face it – you won’t get your Battenberg to stick together without some apricot jam. The same goes for qualities and skills required to be successful in the catering industry. These include good levels of:
- Team work
- Personal hygiene
- Customer service
As well as:
- The ability to remain calm under pressure
- Work quickly and efficiently
- A keen interest in food
- Ready to work long hours in a stressful environment.
The work can be physically demanding, and therefore tiring, but if you feel you have what it takes based on the points above, then you could hold the right ingredients for a career in catering.
2. Follow the right recipe
Like baking jam tarts, there are many different ways you can make and fill these traditional tea time treats, but all recipes ensure you actually have some jam tarts (and not chocolate cookies) at the end of your efforts.
The same goes for entering the catering industry, where there are a few paths you can follow to get started on your career – you just need to make sure you embark on one of them (preferably as early as possible).
If you’re still at school in Year 9 and thinking about your GCSE options, it’s worth checking out Food Preparation and Nutrition, and seeing if this is available for you to study. This is a new qualification that has been introduced to toughen up pupil’s culinary skills, and replaces the Home Economics: Food and Nutrition GCSE.
For those already in the midst of GCSEs, take a look at the following qualifications to help you on your way to catering career:
- Level 1 Hospitality & Catering
- Level 2 Hospitality & Catering
- NVQ Level 1 Food Preparation & Cooking
- NVQ Level 1 Diploma in Professional Cookery
- Catering Apprenticeships
A number of the above should be offered at your local further and higher education college, so go to their website to discover more.
There may be other colleges within a commutable distance that provide a wider range of catering qualifications, one of which may be better suited to you, so it’s a good idea to research other places further away too.
As part of your investigation, find out what each course involves and decide whether the content covers what you’re interested in, and that the assessment methods are suited to your preferences.
You should also check the entry requirements carefully, as most require at least three or five GCSE passes, and some may ask for certain grades in core subjects such as English, Maths and Science.
3. Write a show-stopping application
Let’s face it, GBBO finalists didn’t get to the end of the series without putting in some amazing efforts along the way, including showstopper bakes as one of the weekly challenges.
This means you’ll have to go all the way with your course applications, by making sure you have filled out all the details required correctly, and included any relevant or appropriate information that may help you secure a place.
- Name, address and DOB
- Previous education
- Contact information for parent/guardian
Your referees will normally be tutors at your school that teach you and know you fairly well. If you’re older than 16 and in full-time employment, then your references will come from your boss and/or colleagues who work with you day-to-day.
4. Know your Choux from your Phylio
Although GBBO is aimed at amateur bakers, the contestants probably didn’t get accepted on to the show without a certain amount of baking experience, and knowledge of the different techniques involved to make various creations.
The chosen bakers for each series had to somehow stand out from thousands of other applicants, and applying for a catering qualification is no different.
Once you have submitted your application, you may be invited to interview at the college with an admissions tutor(s) and/or teacher(s) in charge of the course.
This is for them to see whether you have the correct skills and attributes to succeed on the course, and that you are enthusiastic and motivated enough to be a good asset to their department.
If you are asked to attend an interview, try to spend as much time as you can preparing (don’t just assume you can wing it on the day and they’ll just offer you a place!). Remember that other candidates will have applied, and if they are oversubscribed, there won’t be enough spaces to go round.
For the college, the interview stage is a part of the application process they can use to weed out the unsuitable entrants, or those they feel are unlikely to complete the course. This means you’ll need to do your best to impress them, and stand out from the crowd.
This is where some extra reading to appear more knowledgeable can be useful. Read through the course content again and swot up on any topics that particularly interest you.
By doing so, you’ll be able to get your passion across to the interviewers, which will also demonstrate your commitment to the field and show them you have the dedication required to complete the course.
Showing you have put the effort means you’re putting yourself ahead of at least some of the competition, and means you’re more likely to be offered a place.
As well as reading up on the subject, you should jot down notes on your skills and qualities that make you a great student for this course.
If possible, try to use examples to demonstrate these – this is where work experience comes in handy.
Pick a specific situation you’ve encountered where you’ve had to use your communication, teamwork, organisation skills, etc. The interviewers want to hear evidence of your abilities – not just be told that you have them (the application form already does this).
Other questions you might want to consider thinking about are:
- Why have you chosen our college?
- What do you plan to do with your qualification when you leave?
Even if you’re not sure what you want to do in the future, try to have one or two ideas to hand in the interview.
If you tell them you don’t really know, it doesn’t make you look committed to the industry, and that you’re more likely to go and pursue something completely unrelated later on.
Overall, with sufficient thought and preparation, you should easily be able to ace your college interview for a catering course, and succeed in being offered a place.
5. Live in a kitchen
OK, so we’re not exactly suggesting you set up the next GBBO by pitching and kitting out a massive tent in your garden for the next few months, but it’s important to try and get as much work experience under your belt as possible.
The hospitality industry offers plenty of opportunities to find out what it’s like working day-to-day in a particular area. If you’re interested in the cooking and baking side of catering, then contact local hotels, restaurants, cafes and events teams to ask if they will take you on for a week or two.
If you think the business and administration side appeals more, then search for appropriate companies in your area that might be able to provide with the relevant experience you’re looking for, e.g. for food technology you could look up science companies that perform research or make products in this field.
Explain to each company you contact why you want to get into the catering industry – what is it that appeals to you about it? Try to convey your enthusiasm, and outline your strengths that you would make you a valuable addition to their team.
Research each company and make notes about them and what they do – what can you bring to them, and how can you help them achieve their business objectives? Make sure you prepare thoroughly for each phone call or email, so you have the best chance of making a good first impression, and being offered a placement.
Whatever you end up doing, work experience is a great way of giving yourself an edge over your competition when you apply for courses, and later on when you apply for jobs.
6. Become the Crème de la Crème
In December 2015, the BBC announced it would be making a spin-off of the GBBO for professionals, called Bake Off: Crème de la Crème. With the first series airing in spring 2016, professional teams of pastry chefs competed to create the best showpiece desserts.
If you’re enthusiasm for catering means you want to take your skills to the next level, there are qualifications you can pursue to become a professional chef.
- Level 1 Diploma in Introduction to Professional Cookery
- Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery
- Level 3 Diploma in Advanced and Professional Cookery
- Level 3 Diploma in Advanced and Professional Cookery (Kitchen and Larder)
- Level Advanced Technical Diploma for Professional Chefs
- Level Advanced Technical Diploma for Professional Chefs (Patisserie and Confectionary)
Again, some of these should be on offer at your local college, but if not, try checking out colleges further afield to see if they provide the course you are interested in.
You can find out more about them at City & Guilds.
These courses usually last for three years, and provide a solid, in-depth method of learning how to become a chef. They are also highly regarded in the hospitality and catering industry, so you’re almost certainly garuanteed a job at the end of your studies.
For those looking to take their education even further, some universities offer a foundation degree in Culinary Arts, where you can earn an undergraduate qualification while getting on-the-job training at a nearby restaurant.
Hopefully this guide is enough to wet your whistle and get you started on a career full of taste explosions and gastronomic delights.
With the right qualifications and enough work experience, you’ll be on your way to getting a foot on the catering industry ladder and enjoying all the rewards this setting has to offer.
For more tips and advice on getting into catering, please see:
- Choosing your GCSEs
- NVQs guide
- What is an apprenticeship?
- Applying for an apprenticeship
- Apprenticeship interviews
If you have any comments, suggestions or feedback on my post, or any of your own advice about getting into the catering industry, please leave your replies below.