Becoming A Head Chef, Your Career Path and What is Great About It?

17 Jan 2020

17 Jan 2020

The culinary arts present exciting opportunities to pursue creative work while also building a prestigious career. Top chefs gain recognition for their signature style in some of the most exclusive restaurants around the world. Some top head chefs have even become celebrities through their own television shows, cookbooks, and line of gourmet products. However, the rise to head chef is not a direct line, and there are many steps up the ladder of success. A typical path to success after culinary school looks something like this:

So, what are the career steps to becoming a head chef?

Step 1: Commis Chef

On the journey to becoming a head chef, everyone has to start at the bottom just like any other career. The commis chef is like an apprentice who works in the kitchen while learning some of the tricks of the trade. You won’t be whipping up gourmet souffles in this position, but will instead be doing a lot of simple tasks to help the kitchen run smoothly; prep work- like chopping vegetables; sharpening knives, fetching measuring cups; and help cleaning up mess. You will work closely with other chefs in the kitchen to learn the basics of food preparation, including different techniques and methods. Depending on where you work, this position could also be called an internship or apprenticeship.

Job Description and possible Responsibilities:

  • Reports to Sous and/or Head Chef;
  • Assisting in food preparation, ensuring orders are completed efficiently
  • May be required to assist with other duties within the kitchen – maintaining a clean, hygienic work area, providing assistance to other staff members.
  • Creating innovative, quality-driven menu ideas – share your passion from the start

 Of course, each establishment is different so your roles and responsibilities may vary from the above.

Step 2: Chef de Partie

A Chef de Partie oversees one section of the kitchen and preparation of one particular type of food. For example, these cooks may be responsible for cooking the fish, or they could oversee preparation of the pastries. The chef de partie becomes a specialist in this section, then moves on to another. Eventually, training is received in all parts of the kitchen.

Responsibilities and job description of a Chef de partie

  • Reports to Head Chef;
  • Responsible for the preparation and cooking of good quality food
  • Trains develops new trainee chefs
  • Maintains overall order and cleanliness in the kitchen
  • Able to converse with the clients / guests

 Of course, each establishment is different so your roles and responsibilities may vary from the above.

Step 3: Sous Chef

The sous chef is the assistant to the head chef and is the second in charge in the kitchen. A sous chef helps to run the kitchen, creating schedules, managing customer relations, plans menus, and oversees ordering for the kitchen. Skilled in all aspects of food preparation, the sous chef can alternately plan special menus, fill in for the head chef, or take over for a chef de partie.

Job Description and possible Responsibilities of a Sous Chef:

  • Running the kitchen when the head chef is away
  • Ensuring the kitchen brigade is performing to the company standards
  • Managing food purchasing and storage
  • Maintaining a safe and hygienic kitchen environment
  • Helping create new recipes and write menus
  • Administrative work including scheduling and training other chefs, inventory check etc.

 Of course, each establishment is different so your roles and responsibilities may vary from the above.

Step 4: You have reached Head Chef

After years of working in the kitchen, not only developing your culinary skills but your leaderships skills too, you have reached your goal of becoming the head chef. The last step in your journey to the top of the ladder. The head chef is in charge of the whole kitchen, planning and executing menus, hiring and supervising staff, sets the budget, and more. The head chef sets the tone for the restaurant, stamping his or her signature style on the menu. This is the person whose vision leads the success of the restaurant.

The path to becoming a head chef is all about gaining experience and honing skills. These are the traditional steps toward becoming a head chef, but there are many alternate routes that can be taken. Many head chefs started work in a kitchen as a dishwasher and moved their way up from there. Some worked as caterers, and some started in their own business as a personal chef. Restaurants, country clubs, cruise ships, and even small diners provided the setting for their on-the-job training. Every journey is as individual as the chef, and every step influences his or her personal style and ultimate success.

The journey seems tough right?

Yes, the journey to becoming a head chef or in fact, any level chef, there’s a lot of hard work involved but don’t be disheartened by this… Mastering the culinary arts is a skill that could take you wherever you want to go, as you consider your career options, be sure to take into account the benefits that are cooking up in the kitchen.

  • Creative License: Chefs are in charge when it comes to determining what goes on the menu and how it is prepared for guests. This creates plenty of opportunities to get creative and try recipe and menu combinations that will set the venue apart from the competition.
  • Every Day is a New Experience: While there are routines in every kitchen, each day creates plenty of possibilities for breaking the mould and trying something new. Whether it's a special event or a special's menu, chefs have the ability to shape the day to their liking.
  • Bonuses, Free Food, Free Drinks: Chefs are often given bonuses based on the performance of the restaurant. As the reputation of the venue grows, these bonuses can become significant. Many venues also offer chefs free food and drinks as part of the compensation package.
  • The Student Becomes the Teacher...and the Teacher Becomes the Student: Chefs are responsible for training those in the kitchen to properly prepare the meals in accordance with the head chef’s wishes. From knife control to quality control, chefs have an opportunity to teach others every day. No matter what level, Commis chef to head chef, you have an opportunity to learn from others in the kitchen who each bring their own unique skills and techniques into the kitchen.
  • Becoming Part of a Family: The kitchen is a close-knit family, and chefs spend hours working with one another and socialising with their colleagues after the shift ends and the last customer has gone home for the night. This creates a close relationship that can lead to strong teams and a positive work environment.
  • It is a Title of Respect: Chefs are held in high regard for their knowledge and ability to perform miracles in the kitchen. A lifetime title never goes away and doesn't require renewal of a license to maintain.