How to become a chef (With skills and salary info)
Updated 10 March 2023
Chefs are culinary professionals who work in kitchens at various establishments. This could be at a restaurant, cafe, bar, cruise ship, hotel or even certain care facilities. If you're interested in becoming a chef, it's useful to know some ways of getting into this career. In this article, we explain what a chef does, how to become one, important skills and answer some frequently asked questions.
What is a chef?
A chef is a culinary professional who prepares food in a kitchen. This typically means spending the majority of their time in a kitchen, although they also contribute in various other ways. Chefs can participate in the development of menus, advise on nutrition, order and control stock, inspect deliveries, monitor production, maintain health and safety standards, oversee other culinary professionals and help with cleaning. In the kitchen, they prepare ingredients, cook meals, ensure good presentation and observe time constraints.
There are also different kinds of chefs. The variations typically denote either a specialisation or rank within the kitchen. Some of the common chef types include:
Commis chef: The commis chef works under a chef de partie to learn about the work of their particular station. This is an entry-level position that often involves ongoing training, another name for which is a junior chef.
Chef de partie: A chef de partie or station chef oversees a specific station, each of which produces a certain type of item. Patissiers, chefs de tournant, rotisseurs, sauciers and grillardins are all examples of chefs de partie.
Sous chef: The sous chef is the second most senior chef in a kitchen, below the chef de cuisine or head chef. Sous chefs take part in the work of chefs de partie and replace the head chef when they're absent.
Chef de cuisine: The chef de cuisine or head chef is in charge of the kitchen. They manage the work of other chefs and can also participate in the actual cooking activities.
Executive chef: Some establishments also have an executive chef, especially if they have multiple locations. This individual is even higher in the hierarchy than a head chef and manages the various kitchens.
How to become a chef
If you want to know how to become a chef, consider following the steps below:
1. Acquire GCSEs and A-levels
Although there are multiple routes to becoming a chef, they almost always require some GCSEs at least, and others may require A-levels. Typically, GCSEs in maths and English are the most common requirements. If you want to acquire degree-level qualifications, you're also going to want one or two A-levels, depending on the establishment. For a university degree, this can be two or three A-levels. A college course typically requires four or five GCSEs with good grades, although a level 3 or level 4 diploma could also require one or two A-levels.
If you're considering an apprenticeship, they may require up to five GCSEs. They might also specify maths and English among these, although this is going to differ from one place to another. There may be some options to find entry-level work without formal training, but GCSEs can still be helpful in this case.
2. Get a degree (optional)
There are three different degree options for becoming a chef. These are a higher national diploma, a foundation degree or a full university degree. Subjects are either going to be professional cookery, culinary arts or similar. Unlike other degrees, some bachelor's degrees in culinary arts can take just one year to complete.
3. Find a college course (optional)
An alternative to a degree is to look for a college course in something like professional culinary arts, catering or professional cookery. These can be either level 3 diplomas, level 4 diplomas or a T level. The level 4 diploma can require one or two A-levels, whereas the others typically require four or five GCSEs.
4. Apply for an apprenticeship (optional)
A great way of learning the necessary skills while working is through an apprenticeship, which typically means that you're quickly introduced to the work of a professional kitchen. You could look for an intermediate apprenticeship as a commis chef or similar. If you have some experience or ability, you could even look for an advanced apprenticeship as a chef de partie or senior production chef.
5. Apply for chef positions
Depending on your training, educational background and skills, you can apply for various positions in a professional kitchen. If you haven't completed a degree, course or apprenticeship, you could look for some entry-level kitchen work. This could be something like a kitchen assistant, trainee chef or even volunteer work in a community kitchen. It's also a good idea to consider a specialisation, depending on your interests and abilities. For example, pastry chefs or patissiers produce baked goods, pastries and desserts.
You can find work in various types of establishments, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, cruise ships and specialist establishments like bakeries. With experience and greater skills, you can apply for more senior positions like chef de partie or station chef, sous chef and eventually chef de cuisine.
Important chef skills
Chefs have a mixture of skills that allow them to work effectively in a high-pressure environment. Some key skills which are desirable in a chef include:
Organisation: A professional kitchen can involve a lot of simultaneous activity as multiple individuals try to perform their respective functions. Being able to remain organised allows you to complete your tasks in a timely manner and without adversely impacting the work of other chefs.
Multitasking: Many chefs produce items that require several steps in the cooking process. Being able to multitask and perform these steps simultaneously allows chefs to save time and fulfil customer orders faster.
Teamwork: Most chefs work with other people in the kitchen, including other chefs, kitchen porters, servers and the head chef. Good team working skills allow chefs to complete their tasks while assisting others as necessary, offering the best service to customers.
Communication: In a professional kitchen, chefs often communicate with each other constantly. This is primarily verbal communication to keep track of orders, make requests and provide updates regarding preparation.
Stamina: Chefs often work long hours in a high-pressure environment, sometimes late into the evenings. A chef, therefore, benefits from having considerable physical stamina and mental resilience to function optimally throughout.
Leadership: As you advance through the kitchen hierarchy, you can become responsible for the work of others. As a sous chef or chef de partie, your leadership skills are going to allow you to effectively lead a team of other chefs.
Related: 10 essential chef skills
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming a chef, together with their respective answers:
How much do chefs earn on average?
The average salary of a chef is going to vary depending on the establishment at which they work, their position within the kitchen and their experience. The national average salary for a chef is £10.78 per hour. If you start off at an entry-level position like assistant chef, the national average salary is £10.02 per hour. The national average salary for a chef de partie is £25,779 per year. A head chef's national average salary is £33,534 per year. Finally, the national average salary for an executive chef is £42,901 per year.
Are there any certification requirements to work as a chef?
Yes. Anyone who works in the preparation of food must complete the CIEH Foundation Certificate in Food Hygiene. This is a six-hour training course, together with a multiple-choice exam. If you complete the exam and answer at least 20 questions correctly, you receive the CIEH Foundation Certificate in Food Hygiene. The issuing body for this certificate is the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).
Is training always necessary to become a chef?
No. It's possible to find chef positions without any formal training as a chef. Although this is a possibility, a catering or cookery course can increase your chances of finding work and gives you the necessary skills. If you lack training or experience, the possible jobs are typically going to be entry-level and involve some on-the-job training.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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