Shortage of Chefs in the Pacific – Filling the Gap


The Pacific is seeing a shortage of chefs in restaurants and in the tourism industry. Employers and restaurant owners are competing against each other in a bid to create attractive packages to attract the right culinary staff. In New Zealand alone, restaurant owners have to cut opening hours due to a shortage of qualified staff. Shortage of Chefs is not only an issue in New Zealand, but it is an issue other Pacific countries are facing as well. In fact, as of 2018 only 25% of students who opt for culinary studies graduate.

The shortage of chefs in the Pacific is due to a number of reasons:

  • Culinary students drop off from their studies when they find job opportunities whilst studying
  • Industries require candidates to have training certificates, hence, some candidates cannot afford to pay for this training and are disqualified from the recruitment process
  • Chefs leave their countries to find better opportunities abroad
  • A lot of opportunities but fewer graduates to fill the gap

Pacific Island countries such as Fiji are working together with universities and NGOs to train and upskill people who are interested in the culinary field.

Becoming A Chef

  1. Developing Your Skills

One might want to pursue culinary arts because of their love for cooking or they just like to experiment with food. While it may be a demanding career, it can also be satisfying if you love what you are doing. Building your cooking skills does not only happen at school, it starts at home. Here are some tips on how you can work your way up to become a professional chef:

  • Practice Your Cooking at Home To Build Your Skills – Pick recipes that you are interested in and try to make them yourself. As you advance, try and include new skills that you have not tried like baking, making Italian food, or Asian cuisine.
  • Experiment With Food To Create Your Own Recipes – Part of being a chef is making your own unique dishes. Once you are familiar with common ingredients, start playing around with common recipes to make them your own. Some of your creations will be a success while others may want to make others throw up but this is all part of the learning process.
  • Cook for Others to get Feedback – While you may not like criticism from others, feedback can help you grow and learn. Make dishes for people as often as you can and get feedback from them. Use this feedback to improve your cooking skills.
  • Watch other chefs and learn their techniques- The internet is full of resources which you can draw ideas from. You can watch tv shows and online tutorials where you can learn new ideas. You can watch how other chefs work and learn their skills. Read recipe books.
  • Get a job at a local restaurant, build your skills and your Resume – It may sound awesome to kick start your career as a chef, but it takes time to go up the career ladder. You can start with a low-level restaurant job such as a kitchen hand to help you acquire the skills that you need to move up the career ladder and eventually become a chef.


2. Training to be a Chef

Becoming a chef takes a lot of training. Here are some tips on how you can train to be a chef:

  • Enroll in a culinary arts program to gain certification – Some employers do not necessarily need you to gain a certificate in culinary arts but it helps you get a job in most industries. Culinary programs offer a broad education in nutrition, sanitary food preparation techniques, butchery, pastry making, and other basic cooking knowledge. You can research on culinary programs offered in your country and apply to the culinary school of your choice.

Culinary programs are offered at trade or vocational schools, colleges, and culinary institutes. Some schools that offer culinary programs in the Pacific are:

Pacific TAFE  (USP):
Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery
Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery
Certificate III in Patisserie

Fiji National University:
Certificate III in Baking & Patisserie
Certificate III in Cookery
Certificate III in Restaurant Services
Certificate IV in Baking & Patisserie
Certificate IV in Cookery
Certificate IV in Restaurant Services
Trade Diploma in Restaurant Operations
Trade Diploma in Culinary Arts
Trade Diploma in Baking & Patisserie

Australian Productivity & Training Centre:
Certificate III in Commercial Cookery
Certificate III in Hospitality (Food  Beverage)

Vanuatu Institute of Technology:
 Certificate II in Hospitality (Food Preparation)

Additionally, you can look for programs that offer classes and certificates in business, management, and human resources if you are thinking of opening your restaurant later.

  • Train at home if you plan to be a self-taught chef. Going to culinary skills may help you gain the necessary skills, you might need to teach yourself extra skills that you need. You can cook meals every day, and host events to get more practice. Don’t forget to use online tutorials and cookbooks to gain new skills.
  • Find attachment opportunities to build your skills and resume- An internship/attachment may not be very glamorous, but it can build you up and open doors to jobs that you want. If you can’t find one then you can ask a local restaurant to take you in temporarily just so you can gain the necessary experience. You probably won’t get paid during this time but you will get references and that is one of the important things you need for your next job opportunity.
  • Get a certification if you focus on a particular area: If you plan to pursue a specialization in the culinary field, you can train to get a certificate in that particular field. This will increase your chances of getting hired.


3. Working Your Way Up to Become a Chef

  • Apply for Entry Level Positions – When you are starting your career. Be open to any position that comes your way. Look for available jobs near you and apply for them. Do not just apply for one job, apply for several jobs at once.
  • Build connections with other chefs and restaurant owners- connections might help you move up the career ladder faster. Talk to other chefs, meet other restaurant owners, and attend events such as workshops and food festivals to interact with others in your field. This will help you build relationships with people who might help you advance in your career.
  • Apply for a sous chef position to learn the skills to be a head chef – A sous chef works under a Head Chef. After gaining experience as a cook, you can apply as a sous chef when the opportunity presents itself. Work in this position for at least 3 years before you search for an opportunity to become a head chef.
  • When a position is available, apply for Head Chef.


There are numerous opportunities for chefs in the Pacific, especially in tourism-dependent countries like Fiji, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia. If you are one who has also noticed the shortage of chefs in the Pacific and is thinking of changing your career or starting a career in the culinary field, then these tips will surely help you.