My first few experiences weren't as rich as I'd hoped they would have been.
To be honest they put me off blogging for quite some time, mainly because I wanted to write about this and couldn't if I wanted to pursue my career as a Commis Chef.
I'm not going to mention names as I don't think its fair to slander the chances that were given to me, however I would like to highlight them as a warning to other hopefuls.
My first experience which was invariably the worst shouldn't have been at all. I was working for a charity that promotes the local market as a place to sell fresh produce, its a great idea, we prepare fresh food for the public and promote the fact that it was created with market stall bought produce.
Turning up for the day I met with the organizers and whilst we waited for the chef to arrive we began setting up the metal and canvas stall and hauling the equipment out of the shared storage. The first thing I noticed was that the canvas was quite dirty even in comparison to the other stalls on the market and I was a little concerned of how we would appear to the public, I shouldn't have even worried as the chef turned up with dirty equipment and when I offered to help clean them he told me "not to bother" with half of what he had brought even though I could see grease and grime visibly on most of them.
Next I took all the equipment to be cleaned into the shared area that we had for storage to find that the washing area was covered with even more grease than the equipment, the floor was actually black and sticky with grease and grime, I only managed to clear a small area to safely wash the equipment. When I returned to the stall the chef and volunteer where both handling raw ingredients without having bothered washing there hands even though both had handled the dirty canvas. I realized at this moment that I wouldn't be able to eat the food we would be preparing and based on that I wouldn't be able serve it.
I decided that I would try talking to the manager and tell him my concerns. He didn't seem concerned and even told me that the storage area had passed inspection, I told him the standards weren't high enough for the public and he simply shrugged saying that it had passed and "that was that." I handed him my apron over at this point and even told one of the stall holders who I'd been chatting to about market stalls in general not to eat the food as it wasn't fit for consumption, I felt that it was the least I could do. I didn't go back.
The second experience wasn't as bad, I was referred to a central London restaurant for an observation shift during a busy period on Saturday evening.
Some thing to note is all the porters working there wanted to be chefs, the chefs had been there for years, nothing had changed. I'm not trying to say that you can't go from porter to chef however I will say that in the current market there isn't much movement and if you go in as a porter right now you may end up staying a porter for a very long time. In my opinion it would be better to look at other options for experience.
I saw food dropped three times and placed either back into a pan or onto a plate, for just a second I thought I was watching a scene from the film "Waiting" and was expecting someone to shout "5 second rule!" and you would more than likely be pressured to do the same, I never would.
Finally the menu looked great, the price wasn't cheep yet more than 80% of the raw ingredients were as cheep as you could get, oven chips, cheep mayo, fake Béarnaise sauce. I wouldn't eat there after being in the kitchen.
I'm looking into alternatives for the future, however I will say that I've despaired a little bit for the London food scene, with no job movement and poor ingredients being a majority even in the heart of the city I would say that the conventional entry to becoming a chef is in danger of producing either lots of porters or chefs who ignore food safety.
Let me know what your own experiences have been like in London, please mention when you originally began your career and what you've experienced so far. No naming or shaming though, I'll have to remove posts who attack old employers via naming.