Chef Training Options
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 and 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 and 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.
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. GCSEs (A-E)/S grades (1-5) may be useful, especially in English and maths.
There are courses you can do that will help prepare you for working as a chef, including GCSEs and vocational A levels in Catering, or Hospitality and Catering. If you are 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).
When you are employed as a trainee chef you can work towards qualifications such as:
- NVQ/SVQ level 1, 2, or 3 in Food Processing and Cooking
- NVQ/SVQ levels 2 and 3 in Professional Cookery; units include confectionery and Patisserie.
Some chefs choose to study part-time, whilst working, for a qualification such as a foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND, or degree; see Entry section for more details.
Springboard UK have details of training opportunities, and relevant qualifications for the level at which you are working.
Apprenticeships may be available for those under the age of 24. In England these are currently Apprenticeships (level 2) and Advanced Apprenticeships (level 3). To find out more about these, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk
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 NVQs/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.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
A junior (commis) chef, can expect to earn between £9,000 and £11,000 a year.
Section chefs (chefs de partie) can earn around £16,000.
A second chef (sous chef), can earn between £16,500 and £19,800.
Head chefs (chefs de cuisine) can earn around £19,000 to £26,000 - and sometimes more.
Chef uniform traditionally consists of 'white's'. although different kitchens have different dress codes and may also provide the clothing.
Shoes should conform to current Health and Safety legislation, but also be chosen for comfort as a chef spends many hours on their feet. Special kinds of anti-fatigue shoes are available.
The main tools of the trade for a chef are kitchen knives, and the most common knife used is called a cook's or chefs knife. Blades on a chef knife are usually 8" - 10" long and this kind of knife is used for a wide variety of general tasks.
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