A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT: STUDENT TO STUDENT
The culinary industry is not for the faint-hearted. Yes, the hours are long and the environment is fast-paced. Every establishment has its own rhythm, rules, and requirements. But the culinary industry also provides its own unique rewards!
That is why chef students need to be carefully and thoroughly prepared before entering the industry for their experiential placements. No two establishments are the same, but the careful consideration of placing specific students under the guidance of specific mentors ensures hands-on learning and growth that students will take with them into their professional careers.
The ICA asked current 3rd-year students a few questions to gauge the impact of their first and second industry placements on their culinary growth. This is what students had to say:
Did you feel well prepared for entering the industry? Did the skills and techniques you learned at the ICA help you?
“I definitely felt prepared for the industry. ICA’s curriculum covers areas that equip you for any given situation. The lecturers paint a very realistic picture of the industry and what can be expected.”
“Without the skills and techniques that I have obtained from the ICA, I would not have been able to successfully complete my industry placement. Of course, one learns a lot of new skills too, but with the core fundamentals in place, I was able to rise above any challenge that was thrown at me.”
“There were many times when the chef had left me on my own to complete daunting tasks with no detailed advice or supervision. I could fall back on my knowledge gained in theory and practical classes at school and successfully completed each task.”
“It was a smooth transition into the industry because the importance of the theoretical knowledge was emphasized just as much as the practicals were.”
Where specifically do you feel you excelled with the knowledge or skills you had, entering the industry?
“I feel pride in the fact that I look professional when I am in the kitchen. I am disciplined.”
“I excelled in managing myself as well as in maintaining my working space by working efficiently whilst being tidy and clean – something I learned at the ICA.”
“Because the ICA values theoretical knowledge as much as they do the practical application, I felt I had an advantage because I had such a good understanding of most techniques, cooking methods, and equipment.”
“I feel my theoretical knowledge of pâtisserie and cooking gave me a strong advantage in the kitchen. Whenever we would experiment with new recipes, I would know where the possible errors or mistakes could slip in, and how to avoid them.”
“I was placed and swapped into every section only because I had the knowledge and ability to do it with the help of my ICA education.”
“I was extremely disciplined and could finish tasks promptly and neatly. The knowledge I had gave me the confidence to ask questions when things were perhaps done differently in the placement kitchen to how I was taught.”
How has your culinary training prepared you for the industry? Yes, you learned culinary skills, but what about soft skills such as perseverance and discipline?
“From day 1, we learned a lot about discipline and professionalism. I noticed that when we got into the industry. We were very well prepared in that way.”
“Through the rigorous discipline and time management skills the ICA taught me, I was able to perform optimally as a trainee, which ultimately lead to me being seen as an employee and a part of the team.”
“Ever since day 1 at the ICA we were taught how to work under pressure. Every lecturer trained us not only in the culinary arts but how to push through tough situations and keep our chins up, even when things are not going your way. This enabled me to walk into the industry with a thick skin and attitude of perseverance.”
“I learned to be punctual, professional, to be a hard worker, and a team player. I also learned the importance of a neatly ironed uniform and not to stand around as there is always something to do or someone you can help. The saying goes: If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!”
“We were taught to never give up, no matter how hard it seems. Just try again. It taught me to be patient and resilient. It taught me how to work with people from all walks of life, different ages and backgrounds.”
“We were taught the importance of having a plan and structure for the tasks you are set to do. This industry is a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. This kind of training forces you to manage your time effectively, persevere, and be disciplined.”
While working in professional restaurant kitchens, comparing yourself to students from other training schools, how well were you prepared for the work you had to do?
“I was very well prepared. There were many instances where I was able to help other students or answer questions they had regarding ingredients or methods.”
“There is a distinct difference. I feel the skills and discipline we were taught at the ICA really stood out when I compared myself to students from other schools that I worked with.”
“I had the necessary theoretical knowledge, so a lot of things in the kitchen made sense. Knowing the theory behind what I was doing made all the difference; this avoids time and resources being wasted. This is what I saw was lacking from students from other establishments.”
“The ICA really went out of their way to prepare us for working in a professional kitchen, since the syllabus covers such a wide spectrum. We don’t just cook. We learn about the nutritional background of food, history of food, how to manage a kitchen successfully, and even how to build strong relationships with suppliers. This prepared me and gave me an advantage.”
“ICA students work harder, faster, and are more knowledgeable in the kitchen. A big difference I noticed is that ICA students always show respect to their authorities and work with a positive attitude.”
Did you ever feel left to your own devices when you needed specific help from the ICA?
“No. I always felt comfortable enough to ask for help.”
“No, whenever help or understanding was needed, the school was willing and able to help.”
“No. I always knew that if things go wrong, Mrs. Joubert and Mrs. van Zyl would be there to listen and assist.”
“No, I always knew ICA was just a quick phone call away.”
“No. The ICA has an open-door policy where you can let them know if there is any problem. From the start, you are encouraged to communicate with the ICA and share your experience.”
Did the ICA help cultivate a humble approach to learning in you, so that you remained open to what was taught to you by your mentors and peers in the industry? How was that done?
“Definitely. The approach the lecturers have is that everything is forever changing and you will always learn, no matter how old or wise you think you are. There are always skills that can be improved in a field of knowledge. This mindset helps you to keep an open mind in the industry and always ask questions and be hungry to know more.”
“Yes! We were taught to stay humble and to respect all the other people in the kitchen.”
“A lot of this was evident in our 1st year. The lecturers would always encourage us to look at our fellow classmates’ dishes and ask questions about how they did a certain technique. This constant practice made me understand that there is always someone you can learn from. The only way to improve and do better is to look around, observe and ask questions.”
“Everyone at the ICA is so passionate about what they do and it is so refreshing to be able to work with people who love their job. It made it so much easier for me to study and understand the work and it inspired me to be a lifelong learner.”
“Yes, food is an ever-evolving subject and there will always be something new, whether it is a skill or ingredient, and that is what I learned at the ICA.”