'How can I become a chef? And are there courses that will lead to a career as a stylist?'

Recipes for success

Q. I am just starting my GCSE studies, and I am looking for some advice on becoming a chef. This has always been my ambition - I love cooking - but I'm not sure of the best route.

A. That probably depends on two factors - just how keen you are to get into a kitchen, and how you feel about academic study. If you are absolutely certain that you want to get straight on with the practical side of things, you could apply (after you have taken your GCSE exams) for an apprenticeship with a restaurant, a chef or a hotel group, and study at college at the same time. There is a range of options for day-release or block-release schemes.

The college route was the one famously taken by Jamie Oliver, who studied for the Professional Chef Diploma at Westminster Kingsway College in London. You don't have to secure an apprenticeship to start with, but having the right mentor, and a place in the industry, is invaluable.

But if you are not yet sure which corner of this now vast industry (which extends to areas such as outside catering and cruise ships, for example) you want to try, and would like to go on to take your A-levels and a degree, you should do so. The range of hospitality and management degrees on offer is extensive. Steve Munkley, executive chef of the Royal Garden Hotel in London, advises getting some work experience under your belt as soon as possible: "Write to a chef and ask; it looks good if you have made an effort to find out about them."

If you are taking the vocational route, Munkley recommends applying to one of the larger hotel groups or organisations (Hilton, Sheraton or the Compass food group, for example) rather than a celebrity-style kitchen. The television programmes show it like it is - very pressured - and that is tough when you're just starting out.

Degrees of style

Q. Our daughter is taking her A-levels in English, art and textiles next summer. Her difficulty is that she thinks she wants to pursue a career as a fashion stylist, but is unsure what type of degree she needs. She wants to develop her skills in a field with good career opportunities.

A. She will need strong observational skills, a thorough knowledge of fashion trends and the ability to conceptualise and realise the image required to be promoted though the action of "styling". Stylists often have to work with several people at once - designers, photographers or journalists. They need an eye for colour, an understanding of colour trends, and knowledge of where to garner the right accessories or props to make an image work.

Stylists come from a variety of backgrounds, and there is no level of qualification demanded, but most approach the job via a degree in fashion with an interest in photography or journalism, or the other way around; studying journalism, media studies or photography, with an interest in fashion.

There are a few fashion styling courses. However, jobs in the area are not plentiful and your daughter may widen her options if she takes a more general course. Manchester Metropolitan University, for example, runs a BA in international fashion marketing, with a placement year - invaluable for finding out about the range of jobs in the industry and deciding whether styling is the route she wants to continue with. It's also a chance to develop a network of contacts. She should, of course, build up as much work experience as possible, trying magazines, newspapers, public relations agencies or fashion stores for even a short introductory stint.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk