Your guide to chef apprenticeships (And how to get started)
Updated 10 March 2023
Chefs are hospitality professionals who work to innovate food preparation and elevate the art of cuisine. Working in this industry requires specific training at various levels of expertise. Completing an apprenticeship is an effective way to learn on the job while gaining the necessary skills to work in any kitchen. In this article, we share what chefs learn in a training programme, explain how to complete chef apprenticeships and offer tips to help you as you begin your culinary career.
What are chef apprenticeships?
Chef apprenticeships are training programmes designed to give students the skills and knowledge to begin a career as a culinary professional. Many educational institutions, hospitality organisations and restaurants offer apprenticeships with varying specialisations for chefs.
Most apprenticeships start with similar coursework to teach aspiring chefs the basics of food preparation and kitchen management. These programmes offer different levels of training, each lasting an average of 12 months. Most programmes follow industry-standard procedures to prepare graduates to work in professional kitchens. The higher the level you pursue, the more responsibility you can manage in the kitchen, including menu creation and overseeing other professionals.
Related: 11 Diverse Hospitality Jobs
Culinary apprenticeship skills
Apprentice chefs learn foundational abilities related to cooking food for restaurant and catering establishments, hospitality skills and menu preparation. Here are some of the key disciplines practised in an apprenticeship:
applying kitchen safety and hygiene procedures
using ingredients correctly for different cuisines and in proper portions
understanding cooking techniques, including various preparations
learning how to use specific kitchen tools
preparing cuts of meat, fish and vegetables
grilling and firing techniques for various dishes and foods
sourcing and storing food items
identifying ways to limit food waste
adapting to various roles within a kitchen
working with other kitchen staff to maintain food production
mastering traditional techniques for pastry and confectionery cooking
testing food for excellent taste and freshness
Related: 10 Essential Chef Skills
How to complete a chef apprenticeship
Culinary apprenticeship programmes offer varied opportunities for training in food preparation. Here are the steps you can follow to progress to an advanced apprenticeship level:
1. Complete secondary education courses
You can enter into an apprenticeship without completing a specific programme at university. Depending on the training facility, you may need to present different prerequisites from your secondary education. To prepare for a culinary apprenticeship, complete basic GCSEs in English and maths or A-levels in related subjects. Once you choose an apprenticeship programme, check for specific admission requirements.
2. Begin foundational training
The first courses for an apprentice focus on introducing you to the basics of cookery and hospitality in a level 1 food preparation and cooking course. Many programmes combine classroom instruction with practical training in a professional kitchen. A variety of colleges offer level 1 apprenticeship programmes so you can start working towards a culinary career. However, you may also find recognised apprenticeship programmes affiliated with cooking schools or restaurant brands.
3. Train as a commis chef
Start the next part of your culinary training as a commis or junior chef. Commis chefs in level 2 food preparation and cooking courses learn on the job under the supervision of a station chef otherwise known as a Chef de Partie. This second step in the training process focuses on basic food preparation and cooking techniques. Apprentices at this stage learn how a kitchen functions and how to work with other culinary professionals in a fast-paced dining environment. During this part of your apprenticeship, you're trained to execute traditional dishes in various cuisines while mastering kitchen tools and ingredients.
4. Learn management in advanced level apprenticeships
After growing in confidence and knowledge through the first part of your guided training process, you can move on to another level of learning. A level 3 chef apprenticeship includes specialised training in food production management. Students can choose to train as a Chef de Partie, learning to oversee an area of the kitchen and expedite specific food preparations while leading a team of other culinary professionals. You can also train as a Senior Chef Apprentice for Production, learning to work in high-capacity restaurant operations like brand name dining establishments.
Related: What Is a Chef de Partie?
5. Choose a specialised apprenticeship
Another choice for an advanced apprenticeship programme is to study a particular food preparation or cuisine. You may also choose to apprentice as a pastry or dessert chef or focus on regional cooking. Apprentices in these programmes learn traditional and modern cooking practices alongside experienced professionals. Since these apprenticeships are highly specialised, you may decide to travel to a certain location to learn from local artisans or work abroad in an acclaimed restaurant, training under a skilled chef.
Tips for chef apprenticeships
Follow these tips for helpful ideas to help you thrive in your apprenticeship:
Apply for the right programme
With so many apprenticeship programmes available for chefs, finding the right one to fit your talents and career aspirations is an important step in the process. Some apprenticeships pay chefs as they learn on the job, while others serve as part of a culinary training programme for university credit. Stand-alone apprenticeships typically give you the chance to learn in an established restaurant or venue. You may also have the chance to train for a specific restaurant brand with opportunities to work directly within the organisation once you complete your apprenticeship.
Study experienced chefs
Learning to cook involves careful study and practice of culinary techniques. Prepare for your apprenticeship by following the careers of top chefs you admire. Eat at their restaurants and study their food preparation. Read their writings or watch recordings of their cooking demonstrations. You don't have to focus solely on celebrity chefs with cooking shows. Look for professionals who share their recipes on a blog, website, video-sharing channel or social media. You can always study cookbooks too.
Get to know the kitchen hierarchy
Professional kitchens operate based on a chain of command, with an executive chef directing all other staff. Studying the various roles and their duties before entering into an apprenticeship can help you recognise and report to the correct individuals during your training.
Here are the culinary positions in a traditional kitchen setting:
Head Chef or Chef de Cuisine
Deputy Chef or Sous Chef
Station chef or Chef de Partie
Junior chef or commis chef
Earn your hygiene certification
Most programmes include this important license, but if not, you may need to apply for a certification exam. The Food Hygiene Certificate is offered through a one-day course that ends with a brief test. Once you pass, you're awarded your certificate for safe food handling practices.
Pursue your food passions
If a certain type of food preparation interests you, find an apprenticeship to learn more about that technique. There are numerous speciality apprenticeships beyond the basic knowledge programmes, including butchering and meat processing, beverages and baking. You can also find apprenticeships for food management areas like catering.
Chef apprentice skills
In apprenticeship programmes, culinary students develop the following important skills:
Professional chefs must prepare food in a timely manner. They often create several dishes simultaneously and must be aware of the serving time for each. As an apprentice, you can use this skill to ensure you prepare dishes with enough time to cook and deliver the dish in a reasonable timeframe. Apprentices also need to manage their own schedules to complete their assigned tasks in the kitchen.
Chefs and their apprentices frequently interact with customers. They strive to deliver food that meets the customer's desires. If there are any issues with the food, the chef addresses them and works to provide the customer with an improved dish. Chef apprentices often learn how to listen to customers' needs and work to ensure they're satisfied.
Attention to detail
Employers expect chefs to produce high-quality food consistently. This requires chefs to pay attention to the details of each dish they create. Chef's apprentices also practice following precise recipes with careful measurements and accurate ingredient preparation. In addition, apprentices must learn how to comply with company rules and national laws about how to prepare and store food safely.
Ability to work under pressure
Many professional kitchens are fast-paced environments. Chefs often prepare several dishes in a short amount of time, making it helpful for them to be skilled in multitasking. While working in a kitchen, you may receive new orders while you're preparing others. It's essential for chefs to calmly process different tasks and work with a team in a busy kitchen environment.
Communication is an important tool among the staff members of any kitchen. Servers typically inform chefs about new orders, and then cooks communicate with one another about the status of a meal. Instead of creating a complete dish, kitchen staff members may perform specific tasks that contribute to the overall plate at a particular station. To ensure they finish each food at the same time, kitchen staff members must communicate effectively.
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