Hideki Hayashi was not allowed to use a knife for three years during his chef training in Japan.

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.”

Chef Hayashi has been running his own Japanese restaurant for 14 years.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

A bustling kitchen full of trainee chefs in white uniforms.
Many trainee chefs have come to Australia on student visas.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

A chef in a black cap instructs a smiling trainee in a commercial kitchen.
Duane Miller (right) has shifted his career to teaching for a better work-life balance.(ABC News: Jake Sturmer)

“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.

Trainee chefs look happy as they talk to each other with ingredients on a bench in front of them.
Meng-Hsun Kuo (left) hopes to one day work at a Michelin-starred restaurant.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

A trainee chef looks happy as he unpacks a can of meat in a busy kitchen.
Trainee chef Alberto Flacco started cooking at age seven.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

“[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.

A Japanese chef taking a phone call while jotting down notes in a book.
Chef Hayashi has to do more than cook to run his business.(ABC News: Jake Sturmer)

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.

A chef with a knife in his hand approaches a slice of fresh salmon lying on a cutting board
Hayashi has honed sharp skills for 36 years as a chef.(ABC News: Jake Sturmer)

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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