Student Advice - Career Search - Chef - Catering
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Tell me about it
Chefs prepare food in the kitchen of a restaurant or for outside catering. Large kitchens in hotels or restaurants are split into different sections for different stages of preparing meals, with a team to prepare and cook the vegetables, for example, another for pastries and breads, and so on.

New entrants usually start their training as commis chefs (junior or apprentice chefs), learning about each of the different sections, how to cook meat and fish, and how to make sauces and desserts. They also learn how to use kitchen equipment safely - from sharp knives to professional mixers - and may have to wash up and look after the kitchen utensils.

They should progress to take responsibility for one of the sections, becoming a chef de partie, answerable to the sous chef, or under-chef. The head chef, also called executive chef or chef de cuisine, is in charge of the whole kitchen, the quality of the food and the teams of chefs. Head chefs have to plan the menu, order supplies of ingredients, manage the budget and keep the kitchen running efficiently. In smaller restaurants, head chefs prepare and cook the food themselves, perhaps with the help of a few assistants.

Entry level
Many chefs start without any formal qualifications and learn their skills in the kitchen, although there are now many ways of gaining qualifications at college, on a full- or part-time basis.

It is possible, for example, to take NVQs/SVQs Levels 2 and 3 for chef training in professional cookery, on a one-year full-time or two-year part-time course at some colleges. You can choose to specialise in areas such as kitchen, larder, confectionery and patisserie.

As a young person leaving school, you might train as a chef via an apprenticeship. However, it is possible to train as a chef at any age. Experience in preparing food, or in customer service, may be an advantage.

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

Making the grade
In larger organisations, NVQs/SVQs or plenty of experience in the job, can help you work your way up to head chef. In smaller businesses, though, there may not be any promotion prospects, and progression means moving to another employer.

Some chefs eventually open their own restaurants or bars. They can also lecture or teach, train in nutrition or food technology, or work as advisers for food manufacturers.

Personal qualities
To succeed as a chef, you would need to enjoy cooking, stay calm while working under pressure, and use your creativity and imagination to devise menus and present your cooking in an attractive way.

You should have a passion for food but you must also relate this to running your kitchen as a profitable business.

Looking ahead
There are around 30,000 vacancies for chefs in Britain and this number is thought to be rising. There are many opportunities to train and work in hotels, restaurants and bars. About a third of the restaurants are found in the south east of England, but there is no shortage of opportunities in most towns and cities.

More than half of the UK's restaurants are owner-managed or run in partnership, and many are owned and run by chefs.

Alternative suggestions
You might also consider training as a baker, catering/restaurant manager, food scientist/technologist or hotel manager.

Take-home pay
A commis chef will probably earn between £12,000 and £16,000, while a sous chef could earn between £16,000 and £26,000. Head chefs (chefs de cuisine) can earn anything from around £25,000 to £60,000 plus.

The basic working week is 40 hours, but there may also be overtime during busy periods. A chef's job usually involves working shifts or split shifts, where staff work in the morning and then come in again for the evening. Most chefs have to work late into the evening and during weekends and bank holidays.

Large, busy kitchens are hot, steamy, noisy and hectic places to work, and chefs can be under a lot of pressure to prepare meals quickly without sacrificing quality. They are on their feet in the kitchen for most of the time.

Sources of information
Institute of Hospitality:
Springboard UK:






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