“Spices are to cooking what punctuation is to literature.” - Olivier Roellinger
There are plenty of different roles you can play when working in a kitchen. While most children now dream of becoming YouTubers according to a survey by Lego and Harris Poll, becoming a chef is still up there.
So how do you become a chef once you’ve got the necessary qualifications? Be it mass catering, working in hotels, or cooking for upmarket restaurants, what steps do you need to take?
Becoming a Chef: The State of the Industry
Life is good for chefs.
More or less... If we ignore the downsides for a second (like the hours, for example), becoming a chef is a good way to find work. After all, job prospects remain good. This is good for all aspiring chefs as there are many job opportunities.
This is also good for people wanting to work in the foodservice industry in any way, shape, or form. A lot of restaurants are willing to recruit commis chefs with little training or experience. This is becoming more common, too.
If you’ve been trained as a chef, many places will welcome you with open arms. If you have a few years of experience, you can apply to higher positions and climb the ladder more quickly than someone without any qualifications.
The foodservice industry is a big employer in the UK. This is especially true for younger people entering the workforce without degrees.
There are a lot of different ways to get a job in the industry...
Beware of the downsides of the industry. You need to be flexible, the hours aren’t always great, and some periods are hugely busy.
You won’t always be working in great conditions so you have to be passionate and tough to stick it out.
The Most Common Cooking Jobs
Of all the employment opportunities, chefs are often in the highest demand, particularly during the summer as restaurants are looking to strengthen their workforce during the busy periods.
It’s highly likely that you’ll start seeing job offers popping up a bit before summer. Of course, during the winter, ski resorts start looking for kitchen staff. Holiday destinations are often looking for chefs, too. Similarly, they’re also often looking for commis chefs (also known as a line cook).
Not as many people look for commis chefs since these are positions that don’t necessarily require training or qualifications. Commis chefs are easier to recruit than head chefs since the latter usually requires training, qualifications, and experiences. They’ll need to be familiar with hygiene rules and health and safety, too. Through training, chefs can learn many culinary techniques, etc. Commis chefs generally prepare ingredients and clean the kitchen.
In addition to finding work in a restaurant, you could also look for jobs with caterers. These businesses are particularly busy, especially during wedding season.
On the other hand, many chef jobs aren’t advertised all over the place. You need to have a lot of experience to do these jobs.
If you're applying to a fine dining establishment, you'll need a mastery of several cooking techniques and be able to survive in a fast-paced environment.
Getting Experience in the Food Service Industry
Experience is key when it comes to getting work in restaurants and the foodservice industry. No matter the type of cooking you do, the experience will play an important role in helping you find a job.
Apart from commis chefs, most jobs in the foodservice industry include know-how that you can only learn on the job. That’s why training is also very important if you want to get other jobs in the kitchen.
A lot of chefs learn through internships and learning on the job. Budding chefs learn by doing and will learn how to manage delicate situations. You’ll also need some professional experience if you want to apply for the job of head chef.
You can start by studying cooking after school. Cooking courses are a good way to gain experience. Don’t hesitate to go for internships or apprenticeships. The more motivated you are, the more employers will want to hire you.
Careers in the Food Service Industry
Just like getting a job in a restaurant, you’ll shape your career over several years. Experience is the only way to start climbing the ladder.
Commis chefs can become a sous chef or a head chef by earning the owner’s trust. You need to be patient and persevere.
Noone becomes a head chef straight out of school.
The only way to do this is by opening your own restaurant. Make sure that you think carefully before making this decision. Even chefs with years of experience in the kitchen can struggle with their own restaurants when it comes to managing teams, stock, and all the administrative steps involved.
Of course, they can also turn restaurants around that were previously failing. This is an opportunity to test yourself in a stressful and demanding situation where your team’s chemistry is essential.
There’s also mass catering as an option. This is challenging as you’re expected to cook for many people daily. Career paths can change and opportunities present themselves in the world of cooking.
If you’ve got itchy feet, consider working abroad.
How Much Do Chefs Earn
Just like any other job, a chef’s wage will be affected by their remit, experience, qualifications, and who they’re working for.
A Michelin-starred restaurant won’t pay the same as a takeaway. However, the average can always give you an idea of what to expect.
As an employee in a restaurant, chefs earn an average of £29,000 per year. Generally speaking, there’s an average range of wages for chefs.
The lower end of the range is around £24k per year and the upper range is closer to £33k. Again, it all depends on what you’re doing and who you’re working for.
The more experience you have, the more you can demand.
How Much Do Independent Chefs Earn?
The wages of freelancers vary even more. Their wages will be related to how many customers they have. A chef who freelances at their customers’ homes could double their salary by doubling their clientele.
Some families hire a chef to cook for them daily whereas others opt for this when on holiday. From month to month, your salary could vary wildly depending on how much work you get in.
The same is true for caterers whose workload will increase and the holiday period and wedding season. Wages range from £20k to £35k on average.
Again, take this figure with a pinch of salt because it all depends on how much you’re working. Every cooking job is different and you may need to prepare food, supervise other chefs, or even do some of the less fashionable cooking duties such as chopping or peeling.
What Makes a Good Chef
To increase your chances of getting a job, you need to have certain skills and nail that interview.
Firstly, you need to be passionate! You can’t become a chef if you have no interest in food. Motivation and passion can make all the difference between a great chef and a good chef. Recruiters also know this and won’t hesitate to ask you about your feelings on food.
Determination and organisation are also essential skills if you’re going to be working in a kitchen. You’re rarely alone in kitchens so you need to be organised and ensure that the kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine.
Finally, creativity is hugely useful as it’ll make the difference between an everyday dish and something out-of-the-ordinary.
Now you should have the perfect recipe for becoming a great chef!
When it comes to the culinary arts, you need to know about food preparation, cleanliness, restaurant management, food production, menu planning, and kitchen management. While an apprenticeship will help you gain experience on the job and culinary schools can teach you about the theory behind a lot of it, a private tutor can teach you exactly what you need to know and provide bespoke culinary training.
As you've seen, not every job in the food industry is the same and the restaurant business isn't the same as catering, for example, so a private tutor can help you with exactly what you need to know, whether it's opening a new restaurant, starting you culinary career, or beating other potential head chefs to that coveted post.