Specializing as a Chef
To truly go places in the culinary world, you need to be able to do well in almost all areas of the kitchen. You should be able to work the bakery, making breads and desserts. Then switch over and prepare meats for roasting and braising along with their sauces. Luckily, this is how most people start learning in the kitchen. Through apprenticeship or culinary school, the focus early on is to give the students a thorough understanding of the basics of all areas of the kitchen. Later in the training process, teachers may push students to specialize or focus on a certain aspect of kitchen work.
When you have the basics down, it's time to look into specializing.
If you can:
make delicious sauces and soups without a problem
prepare meats and vegetables for cooking
properly cook those meats and vegetables
turn out beautiful and creative salads from nothing at the drop of a hat
prepare unique desserts
work clean with speed and efficiency
understand the basic principles behind the cooking that you're doing
it may be time to specialize.
To get good at something you need to do it over and over again. Eventually, it'll be quick and easy for you to get the job done. But when everything stays the same for too long, we get bored and discontented. It's on us, though, as professionals, to maintain our motivation. Others won't do that for you. Specializing is an excellent way to boost one's motivation while pushing them farther in their culinary career.
A large part of keeping things fresh and exciting in the kitchen is trying new things. Perhaps even some that have never been done before. On the path to specialization, you must learn new things and go deep on certain subjects. The reading and researching will get you excited. It'll have your head full of new ideas and will make you want to jump into the kitchen and get to work right away.
Specializing in the kitchen is a return to playing. You get to read about something and then go try it out, using your existing body of knowledge and experience to guide you into this new area. You get to try new things - maybe they don't work out, but that's part of the journey, embrace it.
Analyze the failure and see what you can do differently. Try again until you get the results you're after. By specializing, you can rediscover your passion for food and create something unique and your own.
There are infinite possibilities for what a chef can specialize in. As a starting point, look at aspects of the work of the traditional kitchen brigade. Look at the garde manger, who will make everything from salads and vinaigrette to cheese and cured meats. If you’re training mostly focused on the cuisine line of work, try looking towards baking. You may find a deep interest in bread making. Or, your sweet tooth might draw you to confectionery or chocolate work.
The possibilities are endless. Don't worry about picking the wrong area to specialize in. You can always change your mind later if the topic becomes uninteresting. That said, try to put in the time learning and experimenting in the new area. You will fight your own resistance along the way but, that's a sign that you're on the right path. You're getting better and broadening your horizons.
If you reach a high point of specialization on any given topic it's almost guaranteed that you'll find recognition on some scale. You'll become Jimmy, the guy who makes the best smoked meat around or, Alice, who makes amazing flavored sponge cakes.
Specialization will renew the fulfillment in your work and propel your career. Take the time and learn something new. Have fun with it. It’ll do you good.