There was tension in the air. It wasn’t all that loud, but we could still feel the hectic, nervous atmosphere. They quickly finish getting their mise en place ready at their workstation, next to a large, white sign reading “Team 4”. On the other side of it, a man is standing there watching them work and taking notes. Sweat is starting to bead on the participants’ brows, though there’s no telling whether it’s out of panic or just because the room is so hot.
“To me,” Fabian Wolf explains, “competing is always about winning.” The 21-year-old chef has already taken part in several competitions of this type, and he always comes with one goal in mind—a goal he’s achieved several times already, in fact. His ambition is relative, though: he says losing is important, too, because it helps him develop as a person.
Cooking competitions of this type aren’t just a way to pass the time. Quite the opposite, in fact: a lot of chefs register their trainees for them to help them gather more experience. Trainee chefs are often only responsible for a few individual components of a dish, but competitions force them to prepare an entire multi-course menu, which they also have to plan and organize on their own. Louisa Friese, a third-year trainee, appreciates the format as well: “I keep taking part in competitions as a way of showing myself what I’m already capable of.” The tough Hamburg native notes that competitions are stressful in a totally different way from her everyday routine.
Competitions are time-limited— every aspect of meal planning and preparation has to be finished within a specified period. One thing they always leave plenty of time for, though, is discussion with one another, and particularly with the jury. Even the newest chefs know how important it is to have a good network, and what better place to network than this?
Winning the whole thing is obviously a great way of getting your name and face out there, of course. “Then business cards just start flying at you,” Fabian Wolf jokes, and Louisa Friese notes that, through participating in competitions, she’s gotten job offers while still a trainee. These types of events are well-established as platforms for networking and recommendations, which are two highly effective avenues of self-marketing.
Once the long-awaited awards ceremony concludes, it’s a completely different atmosphere, with none of the earlier tension and anxiety. Unlike sports competitions, the young chefs all seem happy after the event, because they’ve all “won” in a way—if not prizes, then certainly new contacts and plenty of experience.
3 reasons why young, talented chefs should take part in cooking competitions
1. For the experience
Different situation, different process: competitions are a lot different from your usual day-to-day work routine. Besides giving you a chance to see how other people work, you also get the opportunity to handle tasks that wouldn’t otherwise be on your to-do list. That helps you learn self-management in everything from menu planning to prompt service.
2. Boosted self-confidence and personal development
Showing a professional jury what you’re capable of and getting complete feedback from several industry experts is a golden opportunity in terms of personal development. Your own boss will never be able to evaluate you from this particular perspective.
It’s the be-all and end-all of the restaurant world, and cooking competitions are a great place to do it. You don’t even have to win, either—just interacting with participants and (especially) the jury helps you get your name out to big-time industry professionals. That’s more than just an advantage when you start job-hunting later: judging from participants’ experience, it means that the job offers will come to you instead!