Chef

The Job and What's Involved

Celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay are among the most famous faces in catering, but there are plenty more chefs creating delicious food in restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels across the UK.

Chefs prepare food in the kitchen of a restaurant or, sometimes, for an outside catering company. The term 'cook' is used more in places such as schools, colleges, hospitals and business canteens. People who prepare food in snack bars, takeaways and fast-food shops tend to be called 'short-order cooks', 'call-order cooks' or 'quick-service cooks'.

The role of a chef varies depending on their level of experience and responsibility, and also the type of operation and style of food offered. In large kitchens chefs normally work as part of a team responsible for one section of the kitchen, for example pastries and breads, or vegetables.

Commis chefs (trainee or apprentice chefs) spend time in each section of the kitchen, learning skills such as how to make sauces and desserts, and how to cook meat and fish. They may also have to wash up and look after the kitchen utensils.

Chefs de partie run a section of the kitchen, such as sauces, pastries, the larder or grill, or they deal with a range of dishes from the menu, such as all the cold dishes.

Sous chefs have a more senior position. Their work may include:

  • Deputising in the absence of the head chef.
  • Placing orders with suppliers and costing ingredients.
  • Monitoring and maintaining the quality of the food provided.
  • Planning menus and developing new ideas.
  • Recruiting and training the kitchen team.
  • Ensuring health, safety and hygiene regulations are met at all times.

Head chefs (or executive chefs or chefs de cuisine) are in charge of the whole kitchen. They may be responsible for:

  • Creating and producing food of the highest quality.
  • Managing the restaurant or kitchen's budget.
  • Planning staff rotas and shift patterns.
  • Recruiting, training and developing staff.
  • Liaising with other managers and/or clients.

In smaller restaurants, head chefs prepare and cook the food themselves, possibly with the help of a few assistants. They may also serve diners and clean up. 'Chef patrons' have their own restaurant, and do all the cooking and management.

Chefs almost always work shifts, and may put in overtime during busy periods. The basic working week is around 40 hours, although this varies according to the nature of the business. Most chefs work late evenings, weekends and bank holidays as this is the time when restaurants are at their busiest.

Chefs working for a contract caterer may work more regular hours. Many caterers, though, specialise in providing food for entertainment events, which means a large amount of evening and weekend work.

Part-time, casual or seasonal work is often available.

Kitchens are hot, steamy, noisy and hectic places to work. Chefs are under a lot of pressure to prepare meals quickly without reducing quality. They are on their feet in the kitchen for most of the time. Chefs wear uniforms, often including an overall, apron and a hat, to protect the food and themselves.

Starting salaries for commis chefs may be between approximately £12,000 and £16,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industry is one of the UK's fastest growing sectors, employing nearly two million people. There are approximately 240,000 chefs/cooks working throughout the UK. Whilst celebrity chefs have raised the profile of this career amongst young people there is currently a shortage of qualified and experienced chefs.

Chefs are employed in every kind of eating establishment, from restaurants and fast-food outlets to hotels and company restaurants. The contract catering sector is currently expanding as more organisations are taking on contract caterers. An increasing number of chefs are needed for jobs in schools and higher education, the health service, local authorities, the prison service and the Armed Forces.

Jobs are advertised in trade magazines such as Caterer and Hotelkeeper, and in regional and local newspapers. There are lots of recruitment agencies that deal with catering and hospitality vacancies, including www.caterer.com, www.caterersearch.com and www.hcareers.co.uk.

Education and Training

Many chefs start without any formal qualifications and learn their skills in the kitchen. However, there are also many ways of gaining valuable qualifications before getting a job, or whilst working.

Relevant qualifications include:

  • GCSE in Hospitality and Catering.
  • Apprenticeships in Hospitality.
  • SQA Higher in Professional Cookery.
  • Diploma in Professional Cookery (Level 2).
  • NVQ/SVQ in Professional Cookery at Levels 2 and 3.
  • HNC/HND in Professional Cookery.

Degrees and foundation degrees in subjects such as professional culinary arts and culinary arts management are also available.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The minimum entry qualifications for HNC's/HND's are typically one A level/two H grades. For degrees, entrants usually require a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

Many employers offer Apprenticeships or placements with a structured training programme. Apprentices spend time working alongside an experienced chef, whilst training at college or with another learning provider.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Apprentices work towards NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 2 and 3 in various aspects of food preparation and cookery.

Some trainees may choose to specialise in areas such as kitchen, larder, confectionery or patisserie, and there are many courses specifically designed to provide training in these areas.

It is also important to gain training and qualifications in various aspects of food safety, and health and safety in the workplace.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Chefs should:

  • Be able to stay calm under pressure.
  • Be able to cope with several tasks at once.
  • Work effectively as part of a team.
  • Use creativity and imagination in food presentation.
  • Be patient when doing routine tasks such as slicing vegetables.
  • Be good communicators, organisers and managers.
  • Understand health, safety and hygiene requirements.
  • Be able to work with figures, if they are responsible for budgets.

Your Long Term Prospects

In larger organisations, chefs may be able to work their way up to head or executive chef. In smaller businesses, there may be fewer promotion prospects, and progression may mean moving to another employer.

Experienced chefs may move into a related role, such as managing the food and drinks side of a hotel business, running their own restaurant or pub, or managing a contract catering organisation.

Chefs can also lecture or teach, train in areas such as nutrition or food technology, or work as advisers for food manufacturers.

Get Further Information

People 1st, 2nd Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge UB8 1LH
Tel: 01895 857000
Website: www.people1st.co.uk

Springboard UK, 3 Denmark Street, London WC2H 8LP
Tel: 020 7497 8654
Website: www.springboarduk.org.uk

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