Cooking up a tasty line of work as a chef

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

The head chef, or executive chef or kitchen manager, runs the entire kitchen.

Main duties as a chef include:

l To prepare, cook and present food in line with standards

l Maintain preparation levels to avoid shortages

l Ensure prompt service of all food

l Monitoring production and ensure consistent quality and portion control

l Stock control

l Adhere to relevant hygiene, health and safety guidelines

You would usually start as a kitchen assistant or trainee chef (also known as ‘commis’ chef). At this level you would spend time in each area of the kitchen, gaining knowledge of a range of skills and techniques, and learning how to look after kitchen equipment and utensils.

With experience, you could progress to section chef (or ‘chef de partie’) and be in charge of running an area of the kitchen. The next step would be sous chef, which would involve using your experience to run the entire kitchen on behalf of the head chef when needed.

At head chef level you will be responsible for creating/updating the menus, ensuring its seasonal and inspired and will take responsibility for producing and meeting financial budgets.

Hours are likely to involve early mornings and/or late nights depending on the establishment. You can also expect to cover weekends and public holidays. Part-time, casual and seasonal work is often available. Kitchens are hot and humid and very busy around meal times.

A trainee (commis) chef may start on around £12,200 a year.

Section chefs (chefs de partie) can earn up to £16,000.

A second chef (sous chef) may earn around £22,000.

Head chefs (chefs de cuisine) can earn up to £30,000.

An executive head chef in a top hotel can earn between £40,000 and £50,000.

You may not need any academic qualifications to start work as a kitchen assistant or trainee (commis) chef. However, some employers may prefer you to have a good general standard of education, possibly including a hospitality or catering qualification.

Another way to prepare for this work would be to take a qualification that specialises in professional cookery or food production. Some of these also combine classroom-based study with practical experience and work placements: