Professional chef? Here’s how to move abroad and boost your career

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professional chef

Being able to cook great food can be your passport to a new life abroad as a professional chef.

In this article, I’ll explain where to start; and which countries offer the best options for cooking abroad.

Chefs have always travelled. From Escoffier bringing French cooking methods to London’s Savoy; to Heston Blumenthal’s new venture (and life) in Provence. It’s one of the most transferrable skills a person can learn.

British chefs were always made welcome in the far-flung corners of the Empire; while the first Indian restaurant opened in London 200 years ago and the first Chinese in 1907.

The ability to take the flavours and culinary traditions of one country and enrich another is pretty special. In fact, it’s opened doorways and persuaded immigration officials to bypass rules that often prevent freedom of movement.

Long may it continue! After all, what would New York be without Chinatown; Birmingham without its Balti Belt or the Costa del Sol without its fry-ups?

So, here’s how moving abroad can boost your career as a professional chef.

Where should you move to?

Unlike some occupations, you’re generally not limited to certain locations. This means once you become a chef you can decide where you want to live; and then work out how to get the permission to work.

That said, it’s the market for your skills that determines where you can work. And, that market will depend on your ability as a chef or your style of cooking.

For example, maybe you’re classically trained, but at the beginning of your career. You’re keen to avoid working your  way up in a UK hotel or restaurant. Well, cruise ships offer a great way to see the world as a professional chef.

Indeed, this is where I started; plying a route around the Caribbean each week. Breakfasts in the Bahamas, maybe a lunchtime wedding in Miami; then evening meals somewhere off the coast of Cuba and midnight deck buffets as we sailed out of Puerto Rico.

For a first job, it was heaven; so long as you don’t mind working 12-16 hours a day that is.

You can easily find jobs like these via agencies on the internet. Or, companies may recruit you straight out of catering college. They may even bypass the usual rules on visas because you’re at sea.

Many of the merchant navy chefs I worked with had been in the military services; and this is an excellent way of learning the trade. Needless to say, the Army and Navy have terrific overseas travel opportunities too.

Are you a professional chef who has moved up in the world of catering and become more senior or experienced? If so, an intra-company transfer within a large hotel or restaurant chain may be your easiest option.

That way, you can let your HR department look after the visa paperwork, if applicable. And they might even help with the resettlement costs; this normally extends into five figures for a family.

Professional chef jobs in Europe

Sadly, Brexit will severely limit British people’s ability to find work within the European Union. You do, however, have two options.

Firstly, if you can move and become legally resident before the end of the transition period, you should retain your right to live and work abroad.

Time is running out for this option; plus it will involves convincing a local employer to take you on. For that reason, it may be a better option to start with the low-hanging opportunities.

This includes British-owned businesses in resorts that are popular with British tourists. If you can obtain your residence card cooking breakfasts for hungover tourists in Magaluf or Ayia Napa, you can start your assault on Paris’ haute-cuisine world when you’re nice and legal!

For those looking to open their own catering business in Europe, the same rules should apply. It’s entirely possible that there will be a visa available for British people opening bars, restaurants and cafes in Europe after Brexit.

Professional chef jobs in the rest of the world

Different countries have different visa systems; but most want well-trained chefs. On Australia’s current list of most-in-demand jobs, chefs come in 22nd place; with over 2,700 chefs in demand.

In New Zealand, chefs also feature on the Long-Term Skills Shortage List. But beware of the requirements:

“A certificate at NZQF Level 4, or a higher qualification, which includes the credit and knowledge requirements of a New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 4) plus five years experience, a minimum of two years at Chef de Partie (Section Leader) level or higher.”

Chefs also feature on Canada’s list of eligible occupations. Alongside this, America has been at the forefront of modern catering, at all levels. But while it welcomes great chefs, getting a visa can be a little more problematic.

Senior chefs can usually find their way to an L-1 or H-1A Visa, especially as part of an intra-company transfer. There are also options for younger chefs to train in American cookery on a temporary visa with a J-1 Visa.

A more difficult but potentially more permanent option as a professional chef is to buy or create a business employing local people. Although, that does require considerable capital and paperwork.

Living abroad

Moving abroad can be a major culture shock. Whether that’s the lack of long holidays in an American company, the heat of southern Europe or the wildlife of Australia.

Chefs may find they’re insulated a little from culture shock by having a set task, that they’re trained in and understand. After all, manning a griddle in a Dubai kitchen should be the same as manning one in Dundee; so long as there is air-conditioning!

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Christopher Nye

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