Do you have a passion for both cooking and eating food? If the answer is 'yes', have you ever thought about becoming a Chef? As a Chef you will oversee the preparation and cooking of food and meals for organisations such as hotels, restaurants, canteens or hospitals.
Also known as
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As a Chef you could work in all kinds of different places, from pubs to cruise ships and from schools to the armed forces. In some places, for example, schools, your might be known as a Cook. Your job is to prepare and cook meals.
In some kitchens (for example, in a small pub), you might work alone or with the help of only one or two staff. But some kitchens (for example, in major hotels) are huge, and might have dozens of staff, with a number of specialist Chefs working under a Head Chef.
There is so much variety in the catering industry that it is impossible to generalise about a Chef's typical working day. For example, you might specialise in vegetarian cooking or a particular ethnic style (such as Thai or Indian). Also, there are different types and levels of Chef. In a large kitchen, you could be a:
- Chef Patissier (Pastry Chef)
- Chef Saucier (Sauce and Main Meal Chef)
- Chef Poissonier (Fish Chef)
- Chef Entremettier (Vegetable Chef)
Your exact duties will depend on what kind of Chef you are. A Fish Chef will order new stock, inspect it on delivery and prepare it for cooking. Meat and Fish Chefs need to be prepared to gut and clean animals. As a Vegetable Chef you might have to do hours of scraping and chopping of vegetables.
However, when you are a Trainee Chef or Kitchen Assistant you will tend to do these more routine tasks. The cooking of a dish could take a few minutes or a few hours, so timing and teamwork are critical.
Chefs also have ranks. There is the Commis Chef (trainee), the Chef de Partie (Section Leader), the Sous Chef (Deputy Head/Second Chef) and the Chef de Cuisine (Head Chef). There are also Chefs Patron - these are Chefs who own their own restaurants.
The higher-ranking Chefs supervise the lower ones and might have other duties, including things like book-keeping and budgeting, organising training and stock control. Menu planning and recruitment are normally done by the Head Chef. As a Chef at the lower end, especially as a trainee, you will do a lot of the preparation of food, as well as tasks such as cleaning floors and emptying bins.
In a small kitchen, where there are only one or two Chefs, you will tend to do all the preparation and cook a range of dishes, right through from starters to desserts. You'll also do more of the administration.
Whatever kind of place it is, though, it is the menu and the standard of cooking that will make people want to eat there. So, you will need to take account of current eating trends, food fashions and nutritional information, to put together menus that will attract customers. You must follow strict health and safety and hygiene regulations.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Chef, you need:
- to enjoy cooking and cope with the kitchen heat
- a lot of stamina
- the ability to stay calm under pressure
- to be well organised and quick thinking
- to take a long-term view, as the training can be lengthy
- to work well as part of a team
- good communication skills
- creativity and imagination to think of new menu ideas and food presentation
You might need business and number skills.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £16,500 - £18,000
- With experience: £19,500 - £22,000
- Senior Chefs earn £24,500 - £26,500
Hours of work
As a Chef you can expect to work 37-40 hours a week, which could include shift work, split shifts, early starts, late finishes and weekend work. Overtime is usually available. You might be required to work on public holidays. Part-time, temporary and seasonal employment is possible.
Where could I work?
Employers include hotels, restaurants, pubs, work and school canteens, hospitals and the armed forces. Conference centres, cruise ships and other leisure operations also employ chefs/cooks.
Some vacancies are with contract caterers, who provide food for a range of different customers.
Opportunities for Chefs occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
Opportunities occur for experienced Chefs to open their own restaurant; however, this requires considerable financial investment.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers, in trade magazines such as Caterer and Hotelkeeper, on Find a Job and at Jobcentre Plus.
Vacancies can also be found through specialist recruitment agencies and on job boards such as Caterer.com.
Many of the larger catering establishments (such as chains of hotels and restaurants) have their own website, and usually advertise vacancies as they arise.
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Chef, you could choose a college course in food preparation and cooking or professional cookery. At some colleges you can specialise in patisserie and confectionery.
If you prefer to learn through work, then an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeships might suit you. You may be able to take a vocational qualification, such as a NVQ, as part of your apprenticeship.
Various vocational BTEC and City & Guilds qualifications are available and could help you to get into this career - see below for more details.
Alternatively, if you find work as a Kitchen Assistant or Trainee Chef you might get support from your employer to study for a part-time course alongside.
Once you start work, you would develop your skills by working alongside more experienced chefs or going to college part-time. Short courses like a food hygiene certificate might be required initially.
If you later decide you want to develop specialist skills in bread-making, butchery or sausage-making, for example, then you could take a short course.
If you would like some training, then City & Guilds offer a level 2 course in professional cookery. This course will allow you to understanding the basics in cooking and the units you could be studying include:
- preparing and cooking fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and pasta
- healthy foods and special diets
- producing biscuits, cake and sponges
- food safety
- catering costs
- producing hot and cold desserts
- menu planning
This course is also available at level 1 and level 3.
Other courses could be available in your area.
Previous experience in the catering industry, for example, food service and preparation or bar work would be really useful for this career.
Chefs are needed in restaurants, hotels and cafes, but also the NHS, schools and the Armed Forces.
Experienced Chefs could move into Head Chef or Head Cook positions. They might also move into lecturing or teaching, training people in areas such as nutrition or food technology.
Some Chefs or Cooks develop an interest in the business side of catering and move into hospitality management. Others may start up their own restaurant or catering business.
To get onto an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need five GCSEs at grade C/4 or above, possibly including English and maths.
There are a large number of relevant courses, so entry requirements vary considerably. Most institutions ask for a good general education. Some GCSEs could be helpful, such as the GCSE in Hospitality and Catering.
The following qualifications could help you to get into this career:
- BTEC level 2 and level 3 - 'hospitality and catering' or 'food safety'
- City & Guilds level 2 and level 3 - 'culinary skills'
If you are applying to do a course, you must be able to demonstrate your motivation and commitment to the catering industry. Check college websites carefully for more details.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Intermediate Level Apprenticeships and Advanced Level Apprenticeships in Hospitality and Catering might be available in your area.
There is a wide range of college courses in cooking and food preparation that can be taken on a part-time (day or evening) basis, at local colleges of further education (FE).
Colleges will usually consider applications from candidates who don't meet their usual entry requirements. You should check the admissions policy of individual colleges.
Candidates can apply to the Savoy Educational Trust for financial support for study of courses related to the hospitality industry.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Local government vacancies
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
myjobscotland: Scottish local government vacancies
Retail, fashion and hospitality industries
Tel: 020 8340 3366
National Skills Academy for Food & Drink
Sector Skills Council for the food and drinks industry
Food and drink careers
University of Ulster
Tel: 028 7012 3456
Hospitality Guild (People 1st)
Springboard UK Ltd
Tel: 020 7529 8610
British Hospitality Association (BHA)
Tel: 020 7404 7744
Caterer: Hospitality careers
Publisher: Totaljobs Group Ltd
Institute of Hospitality (IoH)
Address: Trinity Court, 34 West Street, Sutton, Surrey SM1 1SH
Tel: 020 8661 4900
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844