Last week, my wife accepted a position with her company in their London office, so we’re moving to England. This kicks off the next phase of my culinary career: working abroad as a chef!
The opportunity to work outside the US is one of the three main reasons I changed careers in 2004. One of the other reasons was so that I could have a marketable skill after the zombie apocalypse, but since that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, I’ll have to settle for working internationally.
A lot of things have to happen between now and when we arrive in London, but I’m guessing we’ll be there by the end of January. This is something that we’ve been thinking of for several years now and she’s been actively interviewing over the last six months. For a short time it looked like it might be Sydney where we ended up, but London was the better option in the end.
Right now, I’m filled with all sorts of excitement, trepidation, and speculation. The biggest of which is “can I hang with my British counterparts, or will I be hopelessly out-classed”? What will the differences in culture be like in the kitchen? I’ve only ever worked in Seattle and understand this kitchen culture very well; I know what makes chefs tick, I know the lingo and the trends. Obviously in London I won’t know any of this stuff and will have to figure it out as I go. But I guess that’s part of the fun and the challenge.
I am fairly certain, however, that being a pastry chef in London will be much more competitive than here in Seattle. London is a much bigger pool with bigger fish. A lot of the job postings I’ve already seen list many requirements that even Executive Chef positions don’t require here in Seattle. I’m referring to things like “five years working a Michelin-starred restaurant”, “mandatory 2-year culinary degree”, “high-end hotel experience”, etc. It all gives off the vibe of classic old-school and old-world cooking, by which I mean “pedigree”.
I’ve read that here in the US our default ice-breaking question is “What do you do”, whereas in England it’s “Where did you go to school”. I don’t have a good answer to that second question, and I don’t know how it’s going to be received that I don’t have a formal culinary degree. Here in the US it’s really all about what you can do in the kitchen; Your value is determined by where you’ve worked and what your experience is like. I hope it’s the same in the UK. If not, it could be an uphill battle to break into the industry there.
Another upside to moving to England, however, is the proximity to other countries. I expect to pursue several stages while living in London, and I hope to get the opportunity to cook in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, etc. Even if it’s for a long weekend while couch-surfing, this sort of exposure will be wonderful for my experience.
And so it starts. Let the journey begin!