The sky’s the limit for young chefs in today’s culinary world

By award-winning chef, Jackie Cameron, owner of Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, author of two successful books, and Hostex 2020 ambassador

Recognised as an industry trailblazer, in this article brought to you by Hostex 2020, Cameron tackles common misconceptions about opportunities for chef school graduates.

A whole world of opportunity opens up to young graduate chefs in today’s culinary environment – and contrary to common misperceptions, they are not restricted to a working life of 18-hour days in hot kitchens.

To be honest, when I announced my intention to study to be a chef, my mother was anxious about her “sweet” daughter’s ability to cope in an industry that, to her mind, was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Culinary schools often encounter parents of potential students who express concern about the tough working conditions their child will be subjected to when they have achieved their cooking diploma.

The fact is that firstly, hot kitchens today tend to ensure fair and reasonable working conditions for all staff. They certainly are intense environments where perfection is key and skills and teamwork are essential, but at the same time, respect for every person at every level is a reality, overtime is recognised when possible, with time off in lieu of time worked, and hours are manageable if one has the correct mind-set from the get-go.

Over and above that, there is a wide range of positions available for chefs that can suit their own specific lifestyles – and it’s important to explore the options most appropriate for each person’s passion, ambition, family circumstances, and lifestyles. Too often, young chefs leave the industry because they found themselves in a position that didn’t suit them, for whatever reason. My advice is to rather stay with food.

Options for culinary school graduates include – but are not limited to – hot kitchen, pastry, catering, cake icing, wedding cakes, food styling, private cooking classes, product development, teaching in a chef school, food photography, food production in a TV show, consulting, upliftment, food magazine, and many more. The options are endless – everyone is excited about food and everyone must eat. It’s a very good time for chefs.

Changes in culinary positions can also be made through different stages in life, for instance to ensure time is available for spending with a young family.

As students and trainees, young chefs can definitely expect 15-hour working days, and this is expected and the hours become more manageable (though I work longer hours today than I ever did as a junior chef.) Opportunities open up for graduates to find positions that suit their career plans.

I thrive in a hot kitchen – being a chef is my passion and I couldn’t do anything else. Apart from the cooking, for me it has always been a place where great and lasting relationships were made. Within the school environment I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, creating, cooking, training, and upskilling – and I wouldn’t give it up.

My advice to young chefs is based on my experience in the industry and includes: stay true to yourself and focus on your personal growth, remember respect is earned, put your head down and work, don’t follow the money, always be learning or move on, embrace opportunities, be loyal and respectful, be humble and kind and know that arrogance is the biggest form of weakness, and never forget that you were a student.

About Hostex, Cameron says, “Hostex has always been one place that we in the industry can go to be inspired. The variety is vast. It’s the go-to place to learn and there’s clearly a need for it. South Africans tend to love learning, sharing, and inspiring others – and Hostex is the platform for all that and more.”

Come and hear Jackie’s inspirational story of her journey and her advice to young women entering the industry in a panel talk in the IndustryLIVE! Theatre at Hostex, where she will be joined by industry greats such as Karen Short, founder of By Word of Mouth; Candice Philip, award-winning chef from Grei at The Saxon; and Nadia Barnard of Capsicum Culinary Studio, among others. The ‘Power Women in Hospitality’ panel discussion takes place on Monday, 2 March from 11h00 to 11h45 at Hostex 2020, Sandton Convention Centre.

For more information on Hostex 2020, visit