So, you’ve decided that a job as a head chef is the one for you; now, what to do next?
Start at the bottom and work your way up? Of course this is a great option if you don’t want to go down the educational route. A lot can be said for having the experience and the passion to succeed. Experience in the field is one of the most important aspects of becoming a head chef, in fact, its vital. When managing your brigade of chefs, its important to know how to communicate, lead and organise yourself as well as your team.
Alternatively, to become a head chef, completing relevant courses and educational schemes is always beneficial. A good educational grounding will provide an excellent foundation for a long and rewarding career as a chef.
In the UK, culinary qualifications can be obtained at a range of levels.
Colleges across the UK offer courses in culinary arts and professional cookery. To study for a level 3 diploma, at least 4 GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent are required. Above level 3, A levels or equivalent qualifications are also required.
Courses can be found using the search tool on the National Careers Service website.
A higher national diploma, foundation degree or degree can be obtained in culinary and hospitality fields. Entry to a UK university usually requires multiple A-levels or qualifications of the same level or in some cases an undergraduate scheme is available across some universities.
Universities and courses can be found using the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website.
Depending on the path you take to get that first step through the kitchen door, whether it’s a university course you’ve enrolled on, an apprenticeship scheme or you’ve decided to start from the bottom and work your way up through the ranks. Now, you’re probably wondering where it begins in the kitchen and what steps will take you to that goal of becoming a head chef…
So, you’ve made it to the Kitchen. Now what?
The lowest rank in the kitchen is the porter. Starting here, you will mainly be charged with cleaning responsibilities and perhaps some simple food preparation such as chopping/peeling vegetables.
Promotion to Commis Chef will then see you developing more advanced culinary skills, progressing into basic cooking. This role is a key training step in the career of a chef. A commis chef works in a particular section of the kitchen and will rotate between these sections during their training. They include: butchery, vegetables, sauces and pastry.
Each section is overseen by a chef de partie. These chefs can be junior or senior and are responsible the quality of everything produced at their station, guiding their commis chefs and communicating with each other to ensure all parts of the kitchen are working collaboratively.
A chef de partie can then be promoted to sous chef. This often requires additional training/qualifications in management as this job starts to deal with the business side of running a kitchen and liaising with other areas of the business as well as working closely with the head chef.
Finally, after developing and refining you career as a chef over the years, it’s time to step up to the role of a head chef. As a head chef you will be the figure that everyone in the kitchen looks up to for inspiration and leadership.
The skills that make a good Head Chef are...
- Organisation – As a head chef a real passion for food is key but your role not only consists of food and service, but for the business too. A very large percentage of a head chef job is spent looking at product costs, wage budget, gross profit, organising and liaising with purchasing companies and organising food orders.
- Leadership skills - As you will know from working for many years in kitchens, it can sometimes be a hard slog. Not every day as a commis chef or CDP feels like a success, and everyone has bad services. You’re there to encourage and lead your chefs to do better and support them with things they find difficult.
- Communication - As a head chef, as well as leading your brigade you’ll also be liaising with owners and business directors about the finances and direction of the menu. From the start you need to make sure you know what results they want to see from the business and the steps you can take to achieve that.
- Determination - The business expertise is something you’ll be constantly building on but never forget the value of your experience and commitment. You’ll also need to have confidence in yourself and the determination you have always had to get this far, as well as respect for your staff and the food you’re serving up.
- Passion – This is a key skill to have throughout your whole chef career, as you will know the passion is what first attracted you to the food sector. As a head chef, your passion is key to not only push you to be YOUR best but your passion will reflect on the rest of your kitchen members and the business itself.
- Creativity - An important responsibility of the head chef is dictating the menu. This is the part of your work that the customers see, and a great chance to show your creativity and flair.
How To Develop a Head Chef Career even further
Have you ever wondered how your career might progress after becoming a head chef? If you can demonstrate that you’re good at your job, then of course it never stops you from climbing your professional ladder even further, because of course there is always a ‘Next step’, the opportunities are endless. With plenty of experience under your belt, you might go down the route of running your own business, or in some chain restaurants, pubs or hotels, become the executive head chef.
Once you’ve held down a role as a head chef for some years, you might feel ready to take the plunge and try something else entirely. Being a head chef you will have proved yourself to be a great team leader in a high energy, pressurised environment – so who’s to say you can take these skills into the front of house sector of hospitality? Do your research and see what else is out there; who knows where you could be in the years to come!