What does a commis chef do? (Duties and requirements)
Updated 30 May 2023
Commis chefs are junior culinary employees who help prepare food and ensure a kitchen is run to the required standard. Many chefs, including executive chefs and sous chefs, begin their careers in this role. Learning about a commis chef's day-to-day tasks can help you decide if the job's right for you. In this article, we answer 'What does a commis chef do?', explore their daily duties, discuss the role's requirements and list key practical skills.
What is a commis chef?
A commis chef, or junior chef, is a beginner's role and the first culinary level towards becoming a head chef. As junior staff members, commis chefs work directly under experienced chefs, such as a chef de partie or station chef. Commis chefs focus on learning about the responsibilities in each station of a kitchen. Working in this role is a great way to learn how to measure ingredients, properly clean work areas and keep a kitchen organised during busy shifts.
What does a commis chef do?
Answering the question 'What does a commis chef do?' allows you to familiarise yourself with and prepare for the role's responsibilities. Here are examples of a junior chef's duties:
Commis chefs are responsible for measuring, peeling, chopping and mixing ingredients. They use different measurement systems, depending on the type of restaurant in which they work. For example, cuisines that originated in countries such as Italy and France may require the use of the metric system, also known as the decimal system. This system uses tens as its primary measurement categories, which simplifies multiplying recipes, helping chefs work more efficiently.
As part of the preparation process, it's also a junior chef's duty to properly store ingredients which requires using the appropriate types of containers. It's also their responsibility to label each container so that other chefs know the ingredients' expiration dates.
Processing kitchen deliveries
Commis chefs process kitchen deliveries, which allows them to make sure that their work station always has ingredients and equipment in stock. They may take instructions from station chefs and create purchase order lists for delivery to the restaurant. When a delivery arrives, junior chefs unpack the parcels and ensure the produce matches what they ordered.
Discarding expired food
Commis chefs make sure that all of the restaurant staff always have fresh produce and ingredients. Junior chefs regularly check expiration dates and discard expired food. To reduce food waste, they may help to implement menu changes and develop better purchase strategies. For example, kitchens may extend ingredient usability by learning to properly store fresh ingredients, such as meat, fruit and vegetables.
Cleaning the workstations
Learning to tidy up a kitchen helps chefs work in an organised way. Commis chefs are in charge of cleaning their stations at the end of the shift as well as keeping them tidy throughout the day. This includes, for example, washing and drying equipment, such as knives and mixing bowls.
Assisting chefs with other duties
In addition to performing their day-to-day tasks, it's a commis chef's responsibility to continue learning and improving their culinary knowledge. Completing different duties that head chefs assign to them helps them gain expertise and experience. Undertaking various tasks is also an opportunity for commis chefs to test their skills and potential. For example, they may be responsible for sourcing new suppliers. After working in the kitchen for some time, they may also start training entry-level kitchen staff and help them familiarise themselves with a particular station's standards.
Requirements for commis chefs
If you would like to become a commis chef, gaining kitchen experience is a key step. Here are the educational, experience and qualification requirements for a junior chef role:
There are no formal educational requirements for commis chefs, and employers may only require GCSEs or A-levels, including maths. It's possible to enter the profession with a National Vocation Qualification Level 1 in food preparation and cooking. Obtaining a degree or diploma may impress hiring managers and help you secure your first job in the culinary industry.
If studying to become a chef is something you wish to consider, focus on culinary arts programmes. These courses help you build your basic knowledge of different cooking techniques and ingredients restaurants use. Completing an industry certification also allows you to familiarise yourself with culinary safety standards.
When applying for a commis chef job, it's advisable to have at least two years of hospitality or commercial kitchen experience. This could include working as a purchasing manager or kitchen porter. Some employers consider candidates with waiting experience, as this demonstrates their multitasking and customer service skills. If you're applying for a job at a restaurant that specialises in a particular cuisine, such as Indian or French, demonstrate working knowledge of the produce or spices that the cuisine uses.
It's mandatory for businesses whose employees handle food to create plans based on the principles of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). The plan informs staff members about the correct ways to avoid biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards. As an aspiring commis chef, you can demonstrate your knowledge of these standards by obtaining a food hygiene certificate. If you work in a restaurant and handle food for customers, a Level 2 food hygiene and safety certificate is suitable.
Practical skills of commis chefs
Commis chefs use teamwork skills, attention to detail and expert precision every day. To excel at this job, it's also necessary to develop a strong set of practical skills, including the following:
Manual handling techniques
This is the process of transporting food and serve ware to and from restaurants and kitchens. Developing this skill helps you prepare and pack food in a way that minimises health risks, including preventing the spread of pathogens. This practical skill also helps you organise ingredients in the kitchen. For instance, keeping raw meat on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator helps prevent the meat from contaminating other products.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations
COSHH is a set of regulations that protects various industries, including culinary and catering staff. Familiarising yourself with these regulations helps you maintain your own health and that of your colleagues. This may include properly ventilating the kitchen. COSHH also covers practices such as proper hand care and minimising contact with the harmful substances that you might encounter in a kitchen.
Mastering your knife skills is a priority when starting in the culinary industry. To improve this ability, focus on the way in which you hold the knife and the pressure with which you cut ingredients. You may also learn techniques for chopping different foods, such as learning how to use a knife to mince garlic. Other ingredients may require dicing, slicing or the chiffonade technique, which are various cutting techniques that chefs use.
Commis chefs are rarely in charge of building menus or implementing permanent menu changes. The ability to plan menus is still useful, as it may be necessary to manage a kitchen emergency, such as the chefs exhausting key ingredients without the possibility of ordering them with same-day delivery. With an understanding of menu planning, you can also contribute to a restaurant's growth and support the station chef in developing new, interesting recipes to maintain guests' interest in the restaurant.
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