A Career as a Chef

Overview

A Chef is employed in the preparation and cooking of food with responsibility for ensuring both quality and creativity.  There are various departments within a professional kitchen and Chefs will need to be trained in each of these before they can progress further to a Head Chef role.  These departments include vegetables, sauces, starters and desserts and a Chef must not only understand the ingredients used in each but also the equipment and techniques required.

Entry requirements

Entry into the industry as a Commis Chef does not require any formal qualifications although there are a number of professional training courses that can be useful including BTEC Certificates and Diplomas in Hospitality and Catering and NVQs in Food Preparation and Cooking.  HND and degree level qualifications are also available in relevant subjects which include Professional Cookery and Culinary Arts Management.

In general, creativity and a passion for food are probably two of the most essential requirements for a successful Chef although leadership skills are necessary to enable progression to the role of Head Chef.  Employment is available not only in restaurants, cafés and hotels but also in the business sector, education and the Armed Forces.  Different restaurants cater for different tastes so it is possible to specialise in a preferred cuisine, which can even present the opportunity to work overseas to gain further experience.  Many Chefs go on to own a stake in the restaurant that they work in while others move into teaching roles or into the field of food technology.

Progression opportunities

There is a set structure within a kitchen environment with a Trainee or Commis Chef at the lower end of the hierarchy followed by a Chef de Partie or Section Chef, a Sous Chef and a Head Chef.  With each role comes increased responsibility and the Sous Chef is expected to run the kitchen in the absence of the Head Chef.

A Head Chef is responsible for the full management of a kitchen from both an operational and financial perspective.  They plan and cost menus and create new dishes to ensure that the restaurant offers a varied menu to the customer.  As well as overseeing the other members of the kitchen team, they are also responsible for ensuring strict compliance with health, safety and hygiene regulations.

The hours worked by a Chef are generally long and unsociable, and involve working weekends and public holidays.  They usually need to come in early to prepare for service and then remain behind after closing to clean the kitchen in preparation for the following day.  Teamwork in a kitchen environment is absolutely essential to ensure that the different components of a meal are prepared on time and to the same high standards.  Communication and organisational skills are also extremely beneficial.

The catering industry is notoriously poorly paid considering the long hours worked but despite this it remains a very popular industry to work in.  Possibly the ultimate ambition for a Chef is to be awarded a coveted Michelin star or to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant.  There are very few restaurants with three Michelin stars and not many more with two stars.

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