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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

When I grow up I want to be a chef

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Director of TAFE Service Geoff Baldry, apprentice Rachelle Ramsey-Orr and head teacher of Hospitality and Cookery David Forster celebrate Rachelle’s winning the Worldskills Cooking Comp.
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Photos, video and story: Susanna Freymark

John Hamilton is all grown-up and wants to be a chef, happy to leave behind a 16-year career in engineering to follow his dream of cooking.

With 72 jobs for chefs in the northern rivers region advertised on a job-search website, John shouldn’t find it too difficult. The trouble is John has no training and no experience.

Most restaurants and cafes are advertising for someone with substantial experience.

So John took the unorthodox route of posting his cooking desires on a Facebook page called Jobs for the Tribe Northern Rivers.

Here’s what he wrote:

I’m a 45-year-old male (last time I checked) looking for a career change this late in my life. If anyone can, or knows someone who can, give a 45-year-old lover of food and cooking an apprenticeship. Yes, it’s a long shot but I’m keen as hot English mustard.

At the Happy Dolphin Cafe in Brunswick Heads, head chef Katherine Bette’s advertisement in The Echo is one of the few seeking a first- or second-year apprentice. They have already had a no-show and another interviewee unable to speak fluent English.

‘Ideally we’d like someone working in the industry,’ Katherine says. ‘Age doesn’t matter. They must have a willingness to learn, respect for food and imagination.

‘It doesn’t matter if they haven’t studied commercial cooking,’ she adds.

Rachelle Ramsey-Orr says that the cookery course at Ballina TAFE gave her the opportunity to learn about different methods of cooking that would have been difficult to explore in the workplace.

As a second-year apprentice Rachelle won the Worldskills Cookery Competition in Wollongbar in September and next year will compete in a national trade competition in Perth.

‘I want to be the best chef I can,’ Rachelle says.

TAFE head teacher of Hospitality David Forster says young people don’t need to leave the area to pursue a career in commercial cooking and hospitality. On a training course like Rachelle’s, students learn about food safety, customer service and gain insight into the industry.

‘We put students in work placements or internships, as businesses are crying out for staff,’ David says.

Mentoring is important, he says, as well as the student’s attitude.

‘It is a great career but a tough industry,’ he says.

‘When students do an apprenticeship, they come to TAFE as well. They learn the skills and knowledge required of the industry and they network with other students.’

Di Wilson runs her pickles and tarts stall at Mullumbimby Farmers Market.
Di Wilson runs her pickles and tarts stall at Mullumbimby Farmers Market.

Byron Bay’s Di Wilson runs a market stall selling Pickle Chicks and Not Just A Tart products. Self-taught, she has chosen a different direction for her food passion.

Her advice for anyone wanting to establish a food stall is to think carefully.

‘Be prepared to spend a few years making no money at all,’ Di says.

Her passion for food is as much a career as a lifestyle choice.

‘I love the vibe of the markets,’ she says.

She knows nearly every customer, and coos at their babies as she slices a vanilla bean tart.

Di has help with the prep work before each market but mostly she works in isolation.

Hard work, long hours, low pay at the beginning and a fast-paced environment. This is what wannabe chefs have to deal with.

Yet despite the hard work, celebrity chef Maggie Beer sums it up: ‘There is nothing quite as seductive as doing what you love, and having others love it too.’

Becoming a Chef – Susanna Freymark video

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