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Chefs - What is the work really like?

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, who may also be known as the executive chef 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 trainee chef (or 'commis' chef), spending time in each area of the kitchen, gaining 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.

What qualifications and experience will employers look for?
You may not need any specific 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 Diploma in Professional Cookery (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 Professional Culinary Arts.
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. For more information on Apprenticeships, visit

What further training and development can I do?
Once you are working 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
Hospitality Supervision, Level 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.

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