What is a Chef?
As a chef, you will be responsible for preparing, cooking and plating meals for guests or customers in a variety of settings.
Typical settings where you will work include restaurants, pubs, hotel restaurants, cruise ships and contact catering. Your role will be varied depending on this setting, as well as your job title. You can either work as part of a team or solely by yourself. It’s an extremely demanding job and you will need personal and professional commitment in order to succeed.
You can work at the following levels:
- Junior chef
- Chef de partie
- Sous chef
- Head chef
- Get to grips with the fundamentals of cooking, such as knife skills. This may involve understanding the basic cuts (e.g. chopping, dicing, julienne and chiffonade) as well as learning how to handle ingredients correctly.
- Work in different sections of the kitchen, helping the chef de partie.
- Be responsible for food preparation, basic cooking and learn about portion sizes.
- Listen to instructions and work as part of a team.
- Prep, cook and assemble dishes and make sure that they go out on time.
- Be in charge of a specific section of the kitchen such as sauces, fish or pastry.
- Assist the sous chef or head chef in developing menus.
- Delegate responsibilities to commis chefs or other assistants (sometimes called demi-chef or demi-chef de partie) that are helping you, if you work in a large kitchen.
- Oversee the day-to-day running of the kitchen, order food and undertake the kitchen inventory (this potentially includes budgeting).
- Be in charge of training and overseeing hygiene and cleanliness in the kitchen
- Prepare and plate dishes and have an input into menu design.
- Create a vision for the cuisine, inspire your team and delegate tasks effectively.
- Be responsible for quality control and tasting the dishes; making sure they are at the right standard and are presented correctly before they go out to the customer.
- Recruit, motivate and manage staff.
- Liaise with suppliers, oversee deliveries, manage the kitchen budget and design menus. You may spend less time cooking than in other chef roles.
For entry-level chef roles, you can expect to earn between £12,000 to £16,000. As you become more experienced your salary can increase to around £20,000 to £30,000.
Head chefs will earn considerably more, between £25,000 to £55,000+. Your salary will depend on the role, setting and location. Those who work in high-end restaurants can expect to earn more than a contracted chef. In the same instance, a chef who works at a fast-food restaurant will earn less than one that works in fine dining or on a cruise ship. In general settings such as a small restaurant, you might be referred to as a general chef. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a chef is £22,921.
Your hours will flex depending on the setting, role and organisation. You may be required to work mornings, lunchtimes and evenings. You will often be required to work weekends and bank holidays. The standard working week is around 40 hours. Most chef roles will require you to work full-time. However, many roles do abide by the working time directive which means you will not be required to work more than 48 hours per week. Although, if you would like to work more hours, you can opt out.
What to expect
- The traditional uniform is chef whites. Hygiene and health and safety are very important, so wearing a hat and an apron is standard.
- You may work long hours, be on your feet for long periods of time and find yourself working in a humid, fast-paced environment. Achieving a work/life balance can be difficult. However, being part of a successful team that produces great food can be very rewarding.
- You may have the opportunity to travel and learn about different cuisines – this provides variety and the opportunity to learn and progress.
- French cuisine still has a big influence in the industry, both in the UK and worldwide and particularly in haute cuisine.
A degree isn’t necessary to become a chef. However, some knowledge of the food industry, such as a foundation degree or degree in professional cookery or culinary arts will show that you have some experience, knowledge and skills.
You can also seek a placement which will give you real-life industry experience. Some restaurants will offer opportunities to shadow chefs and work as an assistant to help prepare. This is particularly common within busy settings. While you are working as a chef you may want to further your knowledge by taking additional courses in areas such as nutrition and food development.
must have skills:
- A passion for cooking
- Technical skills and cooking techniques – including knowing how to cook, store and serve food
- A flexible attitude
- Teamwork and communication skills
- A willingness to learn and take on board instructions
- Organisational skills and the ability to delegate
- Attention to detail to ensure consistent, high standards
- Commitment and loyalty
- A hard-working and calm approach
- The ability to work without supervision
- Language skills are also valuable, particularly French or Spanish.
It is possible to find casual, part-time or weekend work as a chef which may be useful to do if you are studying and want to gain some industry experience.
This can either be in a pub, restaurant or reputable kitchen. Here you will learn the basics and you will learn from people who are experienced to boost your skillset. Having this work experience will help enhance your application.
Job opportunities can be found in:
- Chain restaurants
- Michelin-starred and AA Rosette-awarded restaurants
- Pubs and gastropubs
- Educational settings (schools, colleges, universities)
- The NHS
- The armed forces
- Contract catering
- Cruise ships
- Hotel or bar restaurants.
Training opportunities are rare, but this will depend on the setting and the organisation. If you are working for a large chain restaurant or contract catering company they will usually offer a structured training programme. However, independent companies such as pubs and restaurants are more likely to offer on-the-job training.
- Food hygiene and health and safety
- Handling and storage of ingredients and stock rotation
- Company policies and procedures.
You will most likely learn by changing between different settings and it’s common for chefs to work in various kitchens throughout their careers. You may be required to travel or even relocate to access the opportunities for professional growth. With further studies, such as an undergraduate degree or a Masters, you could become a nutritionist or dietitian. Another option is to train as a food technology/cookery teacher or assessor, working for a college or training provider. Experienced chefs should have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to food, leadership and budgeting. To become a head chef personal and professional commitment is required.
- Chef manager
- The general manager or restaurant manager
- Food or product development
- Food and beverage director
- Head of catering or catering manager
- Food writer or blogger
- Restaurant owner.
- BA(Hons) Culinary Arts