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Chef

The Work

Chefs are responsible for preparing and cooking food, using a variety of cooking techniques. In large kitchens they are part of a team responsible for one particular area such as bread and pastries, or vegetables.

A chef in training is usually known as a commis chef. They spend time in each department learning different techniques, and understanding how to look after kitchen equipment and utensils.

The person in charge of a section of the kitchen is known as a chef de partie, or section chef, and they in turn are answerable to the sous chef, or under-chef. The sous chef has experience in every department and can run the kitchen on behalf of the head chef if necessary.

The head chef, who may also be known as the executive chef or maitre de cuisine, is responsible for running the entire kitchen. Their duties include planning a menu, dealing with suppliers, managing the budget and organising staff. The head chef will also be in charge of monitoring and maintaining the quality of food the kitchen produces.

A chef or cook in a smaller kitchen may also be responsible for cleaning and tidying up, and serving customers.

Hours & Environment

Most chefs work 40 hours a week and often work overtime. It is usual to work evenings, weekends and public holidays. Chefs working for a contract caterer may work more regular hours. There are usually opportunities to work part-time, or to do casual or seasonal work.

Kitchens have to abide by health and safety and hygiene regulations. Chefs must constantly be aware of the relevant regulations. Protective clothing and a head covering are worn.

Skills & Interests

To be a chef, you should:

  • have a keen interest in food and cooking

  • be able to work under pressure

  • be able to manage multiple tasks

  • be able to work as part of a team

  • have creativity and imagination for food presentation

  • have good organisational skills

  • have good communication and leadership skills

  • be good with figures, able to manage a budget

Entry

You do not usually need any formal academic qualifications in order to start work as an assistant or trainee chef. However, some employers may prefer you to have a good general standard of education.

There are courses you can do that will help prepare you for working as a chef. In Scotland, there are SQA Highers and Advanced Higher in Professional Cookery, or Health and Food Technology; entry requirements may include five S grades (1-3).

You can study subjects such as professional cookery, culinary arts management, and hospitality management at foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND, and degree level. These qualifications may be particularly useful in helping you progress your career to head chef, or restaurant manager.

Training

When you are employed as a trainee chef you can work towards qualifications such as:

  • SVQ level 1, 2, or 3 in Food Processing and Cooking

  • SVQ levels 2 and 3 in Professional Cookery; units include confectionery and Patisserie

Apprenticeships may be available for those under the age of 24. (See Modern Apprenticships in the Funding section)

A list of courses Hospitality Training provide for Chefs can be found here.

Opportunities

There are opportunities throughout the UK for chefs and cooks in every area of the business: hotels, restaurants, wine bars and cafes. There will always be a need for cooks in other areas ranging from business and industry, to education, the health service and the Armed Forces.

More than half the restaurants in the UK are owner-managed or run in partnership - and many are owned and run by chefs. Many experienced chefs also set up their own contract catering businesses.

With SVQs and on-the-job experience, promotion to head chef is possible. In smaller operations, where opportunities are few or non-existent, it may be necessary to move employer for promotion.

With experience and responsibility it may be possible to move into management in a related area.

Some chefs become lecturers or teachers. With further study, it may be possible to move into a related area such as nutrition, consumer science (also known as home economics) or food technology.

Kitchen Supervisor / Manager

The Work

Kitchen supervisors and managers will also be either a section chef, second chef, or head chef. Often, in hotels and restaurants, kitchen supervisors are section chefs (also known as 'chefs de partie') in charge of a particular area of the kitchen. Section chefs answer to a 'sous chef' who in turn, is answerable to the head chef or 'maitre de cuisine'.

As a trained chef and supervisor, they organise and oversee the work done by their team. They make sure that the food is prepared and produced at the right quality, the right price and the right time. They plan menus, order food and keep control of the budget.

Kitchen supervisors and managers decide which tasks are to be done each day and delegate these to members of their team. They produce duty rotas, making sure that enough staff will be on duty at all times. They also deal with health and safety issues, disciplinary matters, and recruitment.

Hours & Environment

In many cases, the hours are outside a normal working week. Kitchen supervisors and managers may start early in the morning and finish late at night, and also work at weekends and public holidays. They may have a basic 40 hour week, but might be expected to work overtime. Split shifts may be in operation.

The kitchen environment can be hot and humid, and can get very hectic especially around meal times. They wear overalls, aprons and hats to protect their clothing and for reasons of hygiene. For part of the day, kitchen supervisors and managers may work in an office away from the kitchen.

Skills & Interests

To be a kitchen supervisor or manager, you should:

  • have a creative interest in food and cookery

  • be organised and able to plan your own work and that of others

  • have good communication, leadership and management skills

  • be able to do paperwork, including work with figures and budgets

  • be physically fit and able to work in a hot and busy environment

  • have the ability to work under pressure and to make instant decisions

  • be able to deal calmly with unexpected situations and crises

Entry

Most people entering kitchen supervision or management begin by working as a trainee chef or kitchen assistant and progress by gaining relevant qualifications and experience.

To start training as a chef or kitchen assistant requires no formal qualifications, however, some employers expect a good general standard of education.

Undertaking a full- or part-time college course may enable you to begin your career in a more senior position. For candidates in Scotland relevant qualifications include an SQA Higher in Professional Cookery, an Advanced Higher in Health and Food Technology, and an SQA Intermediate 1 and 2 available in Hospitality.

There is no upper age limit for this work.

Training

Some hotels and restaurants run training schemes, which can lead to kitchen or catering management. Candidates are usually expected to have A levels/H grades.

As a manager you may benefit from undertaking the SVQ Level 3 in Hospitality Supervision.

In addition, as a senior chef, you may wish to work towards achieving a SVQ Level 3 in Professional Cookery.

Apprenticeships may be available for those under the age of 24. (See Modern Apprenticships in the Funding section)

A list of courses Hospitality Training provide for Kitchen Supervisor / Manager can be found here.

Opportunities

Kitchen supervisors and managers are employed by hotels and restaurants, as well as catering departments of local authorities, in business and industry, education, the health service and the Armed Forces.

There are opportunities in all parts of the United Kingdom and overseas, in all parts of the world.

Part-time, temporary, and seasonal employment is available.

Kitchen supervisors and managers can set up their own business, running their own restaurant or taking on a franchise.