How to Become a Chef in South Africa

by Staff Reporter

Are you passionate about cooking and dream of being a professional chef in South Africa? Well, you’re at the right place. In this article, we’ll take you through all the steps you need to take to enter this exciting culinary profession.

From academic requirements to higher education institutions, our guide has everything you need to know about becoming a chef in South Africa.

Table of Contents

Before we dive right in, let’s take a look at the role of a chef in South Africa.

become a chef

What Does a Chef Do?

A chef is a professional cook who is responsible for creating various dishes in restaurants, hotels, or other culinary establishments. Chefs are highly skilled and trained in various cooking techniques and have extensive knowledge of ingredients, flavours and food presentation.

The job of a chef is to plan and execute menus, ensuring that the dishes are both visually appealing and, of course, taste great! Additionally, chefs are responsible for maintaining a safe and clean kitchen environment, ensuring that food preparation meets all health and safety regulations.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Chef?

Overall, the amount of time it takes to become a chef in South Africa can range from 1 year to several years, depending on the career path you choose. The length of time it takes to become a chef also depends on several other factors, such as the type of chef you want to become, your level of education and your work experience.

To give you a better idea of how long it takes to become a chef, here’s an overview of the different paths you can take as well as their respective timelines:

  • Culinary school: Many aspiring chefs in South Africa attend culinary school to gain the skills and knowledge necessary for a career in the culinary arts. Culinary programmes can take anywhere from 1 year to 3 years to complete, depending on the level of education and the institution.
  • Apprenticeship: Another way to become a chef in South Africa is through an apprenticeship programme. These programmes combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction and can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years to complete.
  • Work experience: Some chefs in South Africa start out as kitchen assistants or cooks and work their way up through the ranks. The amount of time it takes to become a chef through work experience can vary depending on the individual’s skill level and dedication, but it generally takes several years to gain the necessary experience.
students learning how to become a chef

What Are the Requirements to Be a Chef in South Africa?

While there are no strict requirements for becoming a chef in South Africa, having a formal culinary qualification and work experience can be incredibly beneficial once you start looking for employment.

With that said, there are certain criteria and requirements you’ll need to meet before you’ll be able to study. 

Here’s our suggested list of requirements needed in order to become a chef in South Africa:

National Senior Certificate (NSC)

To be eligible for a culinary qualification, you need to have completed high school at a Grade 12 level, meaning you need a National Senior Certificate (NSC) or an equivalent qualification.

If you failed your matric, and would still like to get your NSC in 2023, don’t worry, you can still get a second chance at matric with a matric rewrite!

Culinary Training

To become a chef in South Africa, you typically need to undergo some form of training or education in culinary arts. There are a number of chef training options available to South African students, including:

  • Culinary School: Culinary school programmes provide both theoretical and practical training, and cover topics such as knife skills, food safety, kitchen management, menu planning, and culinary techniques.
  • Apprenticeships: Some culinary schools and employers offer apprenticeship programmes, which provide on-the-job training and classroom instruction. These programmes can last from 1 to 3 years and may require you to work in different areas of the kitchen, such as pastry, meat, or fish.
  • Online courses: You can also learn to become a chef by completing various online courses through educational platforms such as Shaw Academy, the International Culinary Studio and Udemy

It’s worth noting that, while online courses can provide a good introduction to the world of culinary arts, they may not be sufficient for all types of culinary jobs. Many employers prefer candidates with hands-on experience and formal training from culinary schools or apprenticeships. 

However, online courses are still a great way to supplement your existing knowledge and skills as a chef as it allows you to dive deeper into your culinary profession.

Eager to enrol in your first online culinary course but not sure where to find one? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

 Here are a few free online culinary courses providers to get you started:

Chef Licence from the South African Chefs Association

While a chef licence from the South African Chefs Association (SACA) is not strictly necessary to work as a chef in South Africa, it can provide a range of benefits that may be helpful when you start looking for employment.

Some of the benefits of obtaining a SACA licence are:

  • Build your reputation: Having a chef licence from SACA can enhance your professional credibility and reputation, as it demonstrates that you’ve met certain standards of culinary education, experience and expertise.
  • Access valuable resources: SACA provides its members with access to a range of resources and networking opportunities, including professional development programmes, industry events and culinary competitions.
  • Networking: Being part of the SACA will allow you to meet with and network with other chefs in South Africa, allowing you to get valuable insights into the industry as well as potential job opportunities.
student learning how to become a pastry chef

What Are the Different Types of Chefs Available in South Africa?

There are several different types of chefs in South Africa, and each one has their own specific skill set, experience and responsibilities. Some of the most common types of chefs in South Africa are:

Commis Chef

A commis chef—otherwise known as an apprentice chef—is typically a junior member of the kitchen team who is still learning the ropes of the culinary industry.

In a professional kitchen, the role of a commis chef can vary depending on the size and type of establishment. Generally speaking, a commis chef will work under the supervision of a more experienced chef and will be in charge of various tasks, such as:

  • Preparing ingredients
  • Cooking and plating dishes
  • Cleaning and maintaining the kitchen
  • Assisting with inventory and stock control

Professional Chef

A professional chef is someone who has undergone formal culinary training and has gained significant experience in the culinary industry. Professional chefs generally find work in a commercial kitchen or food service establishment. 

In terms of daily tasks, professional chefs are responsible for planning, preparing, and cooking a wide variety of dishes. As a chef, you may also be responsible for managing kitchen staff, ordering supplies and ensuring that food safety and hygiene standards are met.

Sous Chef

A sous chef is typically the second-in-command in a kitchen and is in charge of managing the day-to-day operations. Sous chefs work closely with the executive chef to ensure that all dishes are prepared to the highest of standards.

Executive Chef

An executive chef is typically responsible for overseeing all aspects of a restaurant or food service operation, including menu planning, food preparation, staffing, and financial management. They may also be responsible for training and mentoring other chefs and kitchen staff.

Pastry Chef

A pastry chef specialises in the preparation of desserts, pastries and baked goods. As a pastry chef, you may work in a variety of settings, such as restaurants, bakeries and hotels.

student learning how to become a chef at culinary school

Where Can You Study to Become a Chef in South Africa?

There are many excellent institutions in South Africa where you can study to become a chef. However, to help get you started, we’ve gone ahead and outlined (in no particular order) some of the top culinary schools in South Africa:

International Hotel School

Capsicum Culinary Studio

Capsicum Culinary Studio has campuses located across the major cities in South Africa, including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. 

Capsicum Culinary Studio offers accredited diploma and certificate programmes in culinary arts, patisserie, and hospitality management, as well as short courses and workshops for aspiring chefs and food enthusiasts. 

Culinary courses available at Capsicum Culinary Studio are:

Course fees: +-R42 000 per year (full-time)

student learning how to become pastry chef at culinary school

Prue Leith Culinary Institute (PLCI)

The Prue Leith Culinary Institute (PLCI) is a prestigious culinary school based in Centurion, South Africa. It is widely renowned for its Pastry School, which has several culinary programmes for those who are aspiring to become pastry chefs.

The Prue Leith Culinary Institute (PLCI) has various full-time and part-time culinary programmes, including, but not limited to:



Course fees: To get more information about the cost of studying at Prue Leith Culinary Institute (PLC), be sure to contact PLCI directly via their website.

The Fusion Cooking School

The Fusion Cooking School is known for its hands-on approach to culinary education, with a focus on developing practical skills and techniques. The courses are designed to be fun and interactive, with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that encourages creativity and experimentation. 

Course fees: Between +-42 750 to R184 000

The Chefs Training & Innovation Academy (CTIA)

How Much Does a Chef Earn in South Africa?

According to Indeed, the average salary for a chef in South Africa is around R180 000 per year.

However, junior chefs can expect to earn less, typically starting at around R120 000 per year. Highly experienced and skilled chefs, especially those working in high-end restaurants, can earn significantly more, with salaries ranging from R300 000 to R500 000 or more per year.

With that said, it’s important to remember that chefs often earn additional income through tips, particularly in the restaurant industry. Additionally, some chefs may be eligible for bonuses, but generally only if they work in a hotel or other hospitality establishment.

Overall, while salaries for chefs in South Africa can vary, those with experience, skills, and dedication to their craft can earn a good income in this rewarding and exciting career.

student learning how to become a chef

How to Become a Chef in 7 Easy Steps

Now that you know exactly what the role of a professional chef entails, it’s time to find out what steps you need to take in order to become a chef in South Africa.

Whether you’re an undergraduate student just starting out or looking to make a career change, here’s how to become a chef in 7 easy steps.

Step 1: Choose Your Culinary School

The first thing you’ll need to do in order to become a chef in South Africa is to obtain the right qualifications. If you’d like to complete a culinary programme, then you’ll need to choose a culinary school that fits your needs. 

There are many culinary schools in South Africa that offer a range of culinary programmes, from short courses to full degree programmes. Remember to choose a culinary school that best aligns with your job prospects. For example, if it’s your dream to become a pastry chef, you’d probably choose a culinary school like the Prue Leith Chefs Academy, which specialises in pastry.

Other factors to consider are the reputation of the higher education institution, the cost of tuition, the length of the programme and the curriculum. 

Step 2: Gain On-the-Job Experience as a Chef

In addition to formal education, it’s important to gain on-the-job experience as a chef. This can be done through internships or entry-level positions in restaurants, or other food service establishments. Many chefs start out as line cooks, working their way up through the ranks to become head chefs or executive chefs.

To gain on-the-job chef experience, you may need to start at the bottom and work your way up. This may mean working long hours in a hot kitchen, performing tasks such as cleaning and prepping ingredients and working under the supervision of experienced chefs.

However, this experience is invaluable and can help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to become a chef.

Step 3: Develop Your Culinary Skills

To become a successful chef, you’ll need to develop a range of culinary skills, from knife skills to knowledge of different cooking techniques. Some of the most important skills for a chef are:

    • Knife skills: As a chef, you’ll spend a lot of time chopping, slicing, and dicing ingredients. Developing strong knife skills is essential for efficiency and safety in the kitchen.
    • Cooking techniques: A good chef should have a thorough understanding of a range of cooking techniques, from grilling and roasting to sautéing and braising.
    • Creativity: Successful chefs are often known for their creativity in the kitchen. You’ll need to be able to come up with new and interesting dishes that appeal to a wide range of tastes.
    • Time management: Working in a busy kitchen requires excellent time management skills. It’s, therefore, important that you have the ability to prioritise tasks, manage your time effectively and work efficiently to meet tight deadlines.

Step 4: Specialise in a Certain Type of Cuisine

Many chefs become skilled at cooking or baking all kinds of food; however, if you’re only interested in certain cuisines, then you may consider specialising.

For example, if you find that you’re highly skilled at creating Thai food, then making that cuisine your specialty could be great for your career. 

If you’re unsure of what cuisine to specialise in, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to help you figure out how to specialise in a certain type of cuisine:

  • Research the cuisine: Learn as much as you can about the cuisine you’re interested in, including its history, cultural significance and the ingredients and techniques used in traditional dishes.
  • Practice cooking the cuisine: Try your hand at cooking dishes from the cuisine you want to specialise in. Use cookbooks, online resources or take a cooking class to learn new techniques and flavour combinations.
  • Seek out mentors: Find other chefs who specialise in the cuisine you’re interested in and seek out their guidance and advice. Networking with chefs who share your interest is also a great way to share ideas and improve your skill set.
student taking part in culinary competition

Step 5: Participate in Culinary Competitions

Participating in culinary competitions can be an excellent way for you to gain experience, build your skillset and advance your career as a chef. But those aren’t the only benefits of participating in culinary competitions.

Taking part in a culinary competition will also allow you to:

  • Gain valuable experience: Learn from experienced chefs, test out new techniques, and receive feedback on their performance.
  • Build their resumes: Participation in culinary competitions can be a valuable addition to a junior chef’s resume. 
  • Increase visibility: Competitions can help junior chefs increase their visibility and get noticed by potential employers or industry professionals.
  • Learn from peers: Competitions bring together chefs from different backgrounds and levels of experience, providing an opportunity for junior chefs to learn from their peers and build their network of professional contacts.
  • Showcase their skills: Competitions provide a platform for junior chefs to experiment with new flavours and techniques; you’ll also be able to demonstrate your ability to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines.

Step 6: Attend Culinary Workshops and Seminars

Attending culinary workshops and seminars is a great way for young chefs to get hands-on experience as well as build their portfolio. 

Additionally, attending culinary workshops and seminars will allow you to:

  • Learn new techniques and skills: Workshops and seminars offer junior chefs the opportunity to learn new techniques and skills that they may not have had the chance to learn in their regular work environment. This can help them improve their culinary abilities and expand their knowledge.
  • Try out different cuisines and styles: Workshops and seminars often feature guest chefs who specialise in different cuisines or styles of cooking. This exposure can help junior chefs broaden their culinary horizons and explore new flavours and techniques.
  • Connect with other chefs: Workshops and seminars provide a great opportunity for junior chefs to meet and connect with other industry professionals. These connections can lead to future job opportunities and collaborations.
  • Get inspired by new ideas: Attending workshops and seminars can be a source of inspiration and motivation for junior chefs. They can see what others in the industry are doing, learn from their successes and failures, and come away feeling energised and excited to apply what they’ve learned to their own work.

Step 7: Build Your Career as a Chef

After obtaining your culinary qualification, work experience and palate, it’s time to start building your career. Look for job opportunities in restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses on job platforms like Indeed, Pnet and LinkedIn

You may also want to consider networking with other chefs and industry professionals at culinary events, or online, to expand your connections and gain new opportunities.

You can also create a website or social media account (we recommend Instagram or LinkedIn) to showcase your work, share your recipes and connect with potential clients. Building a strong online presence also helps you attract new clients and build your brand.

All said and done, becoming a chef in South Africa is rewarding, but it does require tons of dedication, hard work and a passion for cooking. By following these steps, you can obtain the skills and qualifications you need to build a successful career in the culinary industry.

Fund Your Culinary Studies With Fundi

If you’re looking to become a chef in South Africa, and are in need of funding for your studies, Fundi can help! 

Fundi provides students with the funding they need to pay all their educational costs—such as tuition fees, accommodation, technical devices and more!

Eager to find out if you qualify for a Fundi study loan? Then be sure to try out the Fundi Loan Calculator and start your educational journey today.

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