How to become a Chef. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about Chef careers.
What does a Chef do?
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, also known as the executive chef, kitchen manager, or the ‘maitre de cuisine’, runs the entire kitchen.
Your main duties as a chef would include:
- planning menus
- dealing with suppliers
- managing the budget
- organising staff
- monitoring and maintaining the quality of the food produced in the kitchen
- making sure the kitchen works within 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 (or under-chef), which would involve using your experience to run the entire kitchen on behalf of the head chef when needed.
In smaller kitchens, you could also be responsible for cleaning the kitchen and serving customers.
You would often start work early in the morning and finish late at night, which may be part of a split shift system. 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 key meal times. You would wear an overall, apron and hat to protect your clothing and for hygiene reasons.
How much does a Chef earn?
Salary and pay information:
- A trainee (commis) chef may start on around £14,200 a year.
- Section chefs (chefs de partie) can earn up to £18,000.
- A second chef (sous chef) may earn around £24,000.
- Head chefs (chefs de cuisine) can earn up to £33,000.
- An executive head chef in a top hotel can earn between £42,000 and £53,000.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You may not need any academic qualifications to start work as a trainee (commis) chef. However, some employers will prefer you to have a good general standard of education, possibly including GCSEs in subjects like English, maths, and catering (or hospitality and catering).
Another way to prepare for this work would be to take a course that combines classroom-based study with practical experience and work placements, such as:
- Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality and Catering Principles (awarded by EDI and City & Guilds)
- BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Hospitality
- BTEC HNC in Hospitality Management
- BTEC HND in Professional Cookery
- foundation degree in Culinary Arts Management.
Check with colleges or universities for details of course entry requirements.
Alternatively, you may be able to get into kitchen work through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find our more about Apprenticeships, visit the Apprenticeships website.
Training and Development
As a chef, you could study for NVQ qualifications in subjects such as:
- Food Processing and Cooking, Level 2
- Professional Cookery, levels 2 and 3.
You could develop more advanced skills and help your career prospects by taking part-time courses such as a foundation degree, BTEC HNC or degree in professional cookery, culinary arts management, or hospitality management.
Skills and Knowledge
- a keen interest in food and cooking
- strong communication and leadership skills
- the ability to work under pressure
- high standards of cleanliness and hygiene
- the ability to manage multiple tasks
- the ability to work as part of a team
- creativity and imagination for food presentation
- good organisational skills
- the ability to manage a budget.
Although there are around 250,000 chefs and cooks in the UK, People 1st (the Sector Skills Council for hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism) report that there continues to be a shortage of skilled chefs.
You could find work throughout the UK in every area of the industry, including hotels, restaurants, wine bars and cafes, as well as in education, the NHS and the Armed Forces. Many restaurants are owner-managed or run in partnership, and many are owned and run by chefs.
With qualifications and on-the-job experience, you could progress to head chef or kitchen manager/supervisor. You are likely to have greater promotion opportunities in larger kitchens. You could also move into management, set up your own contract catering business, or go on to train and teach catering or professional cookery in colleges.