There was a time when the idea of becoming a vegan chef seemed like a rebellious act one had to do on one’s own. Thankfully, times are changing. The need for vegan chefs is steadily increasing. There are more and more people opting for a plant-based diet or even just increasing the number of vegan meals they eat. More vegan restaurants are opening, and popular restaurants, grocery stores, and other food-related businesses are seeing the value in offering more vegan options to their customers – and in parallel, more people are trying to make their own vegan food at home.
If you’re looking to expand your plant-based cooking skills, you can start by learning to make a variety of plant-based dishes at home to hone your knowledge of the basics. Make it fun by inviting your friends over to sample your creations and share the best recipes you have with others on social media (or right here on One Green Planet). Thinking of new ways to replace eggs and dairy in your favorite meals is a great way to start thinking creatively and learning what it takes to be a vegan chef.
Once you’ve mastered the art of turning a vegetable into a delectable (and enviable) entrée, you might find yourself yearning to take your cooking to the next level and share it with the world as a chef. If becoming a professional vegan chef is your dream, here are some things to consider that will help point you in the right direction.
1. What is a Professional Chef?
Many people use the terms “cook” and “chef” interchangeably to describe someone who is preparing dishes in the kitchen. However, there is a difference based on education and experience. Chefs get their title if they have a two- or four-year culinary degree and/or have extensively trained under a chef whereby their apprenticeship is equivalent to a degree. Chefs supervise, create menus and manage the kitchen. Cooks, on the other hand, prepare food and perform kitchen duties but are not in charge and may not have a formal culinary education or training.
Of course, we see famous cooks on television all the time and there are restaurant owners and renowned cooks who have no formal training but are considered chefs based on their accomplishments. To be a chef, there is a lot to learn. Besides cooking techniques, there is menu planning, plating, food handling, nutrition, business management and health department regulations. The bottom line is that anyone can call themselves a chef but depending on your career goals, you will need to decide whether formal training is necessary and appropriate for you.
If you choose to train as an apprentice, you will need to find chefs willing to mentor you. It’s a good idea to work in several places over time to get varied types of experience and skills and see where you are most comfortable working. Maybe you prefer a fancy restaurant in a large metropolitan center, a deli in a natural foods market or the kitchen of a hotel. Perhaps you might enjoy doing culinary research at a vegan food company.
How do you find an apprenticeship? Nancy Berkoff, who is a professional chef, registered dietitian and food service advisor for the Vegetarian Resource Group, stresses the importance of networking – making and maintaining business contacts and connections. It’s a good idea to make yourself known and make a good impression. Talk to vegan chefs at every opportunity to get their experiences and advice. Sometimes, a good contact makes all the difference when opportunities arise.
3. Formal Culinary Training
If you decide you want a formal culinary education, there are various routes you can go. You can attend culinary school full-time or part-time while also getting job experience working as a cook or chef. If you plan to open your own restaurant or business, you may want to take a course in business management or restaurant and hotel hospitality. Some culinary programs offer certificates and/or degrees. You need to explore all the options and decide what is best for you in terms of time, finances, and your career goals.
If you choose to go to a traditional culinary school, you will have to learn to cook with meat and other animal-based foods. The good news is that there are an increasing number of culinary schools that offer vegetarian and vegan cooking programs. In NYC, for example, the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts has a Chef’s Training Program and Certificate Programs in the areas of Raw and Living Foods, Culinary Nutrition, Sustainable Farming, Food Entrepreneurship, Writing for Food Media, and Cooking for People with Illness. On the other end of the country, California is home to the Living Light Culinary Institute, which teaches raw cooking, and the Vegan Culinary Academy. To learn about more vegan culinary schools, see CulinarySchools.org
Becoming a vegan chef is certainly not a straight and narrow road. Whether you want to own your own restaurant, be a personal chef or caterer or write best-selling cookbooks, there are many roads possible to arriving at your dream. You have to think about what type of career you want and factor in the realities of time, money and opportunity. With the world becoming more and more open to plant-based food, now is a perfect time to turn your passion for vegan cooking into a career as a professional vegan chef.
Lead image source: NGI197/Flickr