Hideki Hayashi was not allowed to use a knife for three years during his chef training in Japan.
- Chefs have left Australia in droves as the pandemic hits
- The job has been added to the priority migration list
- More than 11,000 new chefs are expected to be employed by 2026
Working 15 hours a day, six days a week, he honed an infallible discipline that is now ingrained in his personality.
“Three years of washing dishes, cleaning fish…nothing else,” he said.
“During that time, I actually felt a bit depressed. Almost 20 years old, no skills, low salary. I lost my confidence.”
Hayashi, who now runs his own restaurant in the downtown suburb of Subiaco, has survived more than three decades in a profession known for its demanding and high-stress environment.
As the country faces a growing skills shortage, Hayashi looks forward to seeing if the next cohort can handle the heat in the kitchen.
Thousands of up-and-coming chefs
The number of chefs in the coming years is expected to increase by almost 14% in 2026, according to the National Skills Commission. This equates to around 11,200 new chefs, making the profession one of the fastest growing jobs in Australia.
This contrasts with a dramatic exodus in the past three years since the pandemic hit, which has seen Australia lose around a quarter of its chiefs.
One of the factors driving the projected growth is the federal government’s willingness to address skills shortages, with chefs being one of 44 occupations on the priority migration list.
The Australian Institute of Language and Further Education is one of many organizations supporting this path, with enrollments in their commercial cooking classes now more than doubling from 2019 figures.
“Everyone eats. Every week you hear about new restaurants opening. It’s a good opportunity for anyone to get into [the industry]“said instructor Duane Miller.
While Mr Miller held out hope for the future leaders under his wing, he admitted they had a tough road ahead of them.
“You have to really want something from it. Sometimes there are these sacrifices you have to make…that determination has to be there,” he said.
Trainees driven by passion
Trainee Meng-Hsun Kuo arrived in Australia from Taiwan on a working holiday visa and spent her early years in the country cooking at an Indian restaurant.
She is an avid foodie and yearns to learn more about Western cuisines.
“I believe that after knowledge and skills, one day I will become a great chef,” Ms. Kuo said.
“It’s really difficult. It’s not easy to become a professional cook and chef…it’s a long journey.”
But his enthusiasm for the kitchen was not deterred by the difficulties ahead – a sentiment shared by fellow trainee Alberto Flacco.
“[Australia] is a really good place to develop this profession … we get that confidence, we get that experience,” Flacco said.
Mr. Flacco grew up in Argentina, where enjoying big parties with his family sparked his enthusiasm to become a chef.
Now on track, he’s excited to complete the course and have the title “chef” on his resume.
Advice from an experienced chef: get to the stove
But a resume means little to Hayashi, who prefers to judge future employees by cooking them.
He thinks many lack the discipline to match their enthusiasm, saying budding chefs need to hone their skills.
Encouraged by his father, who also worked as a chef, Hideki skipped cooking classes and instead began his training by working in a restaurant as a kitchen worker.
He says the traditional, regimented training experience he underwent was key to nurturing his passion for food and honing his discipline in the kitchen.
It’s an experience he says many aspiring to join the industry don’t get in TAFE and other commercial cooking classes.
“I have been working as a chef for 36 years. If one day I lose my passion for cooking, I would be happy to retire,” he said.
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