If you’ve got creative flair and an affinity for good food, opting for a full-time career in the catering industry could be a wise move. Respected, revered and occasionally rich, top chefs combine highly valued culinary skills with an astute business acumen to build multinational global brands. Of course, your own ambitions don’t need to be so grand; some people just like to cook. But either way, if you’ve ever considered stepping out of your own kitchen and into a more professional environment, read on – this is everything you need to know about how to become a chef.
Job Description for a Chef
Chefs work in a wide variety of settings, preparing, cooking and plating food. While most of these positions are within restaurants, cafés and gastro-pubs, it is also possible to find work in hotels, ships, aircraft, private events, hospitals and the military.
Generally speaking, there are four types of chef within most professional kitchens, operating within a hierarchical structure. They are:
- apprentice or trainee chefs, known as commis chefs
- section chefs, known as chef de partie
- sous chefs, who act as the second-in-command of the kitchen
- head/executive chefs, who are responsible for the management of the entire kitchen and are known as chefs de cuisine.
Professional kitchens are high-pressure environments that operate under very strict time deadlines, and you should be comfortable working under such constraints.
See below each level Chef from the bottom of the ladder right to the top – this is your career path…
- develop their culinary knowledge and technical preparation and cooking skills under the supervision of more experienced chefs
- assist and help the chef de partie as required
- prepare food and cook basic dishes.
Chef de partie:
- prepare, assemble and cook dishes to a strict deadline schedule
- manage certain sections of the kitchen such as sauces, fish or pastries
- assist in menu development.
- oversee the day-to-day running of the kitchen at ground level
- manage the kitchen inventory and order stock as necessary
- train and develop junior chefs
- implement (and ensure compliance of) hygiene and cleanliness policies and procedures
- prepare and plate dishes when required
- provide a significant input into menu development.
Chefs de cuisine:
- develop the overall creative vision and direction of the cuisine
- ensure all dishes are cooked and prepared to a high standard
- recruit and manage all kitchen staff
- manage the business development side of affairs such as budgeting, delivery taking, liaising with suppliers and designing menus
Essential Skills and Qualities
A good knowledge and understanding of basic cooking and food hygiene techniques are a prerequisite to starting work in any kitchen; you will also need to be able to demonstrate the following:
- the ability to work calmly and quickly under pressure in a crowded, loud and fast-paced environment
- strong teamwork and communication skills
- a willingness to learn and take on board instruction and constructive criticism
- a high level of organisation skills and the ability to prioritise and delegate
- attention to detail in order to ensure consistency
- a hardworking and robust approach
- the ability to work independently when required.
Working Hours and Conditions
Working hours vary depending on the industry that you work within, but as a general rule, you will likely work a minimum of 40 hours each week. It is also legally possible to take on more hours if you wish, especially in larger, busier kitchens.
On the whole, though, the majority of chefs – especially in the hospitality industry – work highly unsociable hours, including most evenings and weekends. Some chefs prefer to take jobs in less commercial kitchens, such as in schools or hospitals, to negate this.
Ultimately, there is an exciting and challenging career path to be enjoyed as a chef, especially if you are passionate and ambitious about creating your own courses and dishes. While the hours may be relatively unsociable and the conditions humid and stressful, the feeling of producing high-quality food that is loved and enjoyed by customers can be a reward enough in itself.