So you’ve figured out that you want to be a hot hand in the kitchen and can envision yourself as the top of the chain, running a kitchen and dishing out orders to other cooks in a restaurant, hotel, cafe or any other eating establishment. Starting your life as a wannabe chef can be a daunting prospect, especially when you really have no idea where it is you need to start.
Having an affinity for good food and going to school to learn the essential skills is only a small part of the steps you need to take to build a career in food. In reality, your career in the food industry should start at a very young age. Most of the chefs in restaurants you see these days started life at the very bottom of the pile in a kitchen, usually as a busboy or pot washer. It’s not a glamorous role for when you are dreaming of developing menus and putting finishing touches to dishes, but sometimes, it’s a necessary evil if you’re going to be a true cooking success.
So, even before you start looking into cooking school or qualifications, take up a part-time job in a restaurant, any restaurant to get a feel for the kitchen environment and to observe the dynamics of a professional workspace. You’ll need to bust your ass every minute of every shift to be respected and revered as the bottom of the pile, but it’s worth it to make connections and observe professionals doing what they do best.
That’s the very first step and a crucial one that a lot of chefs skip because they think their too good to be the bottom of the pile, even for a little while. Doing a menial role like this helps you to gain a deeper respect for everyone in the kitchen, you’ll respect everyone more because you’ve done every role, even the low-level ones.
So, once you’ve got the unskilled job roles out of the way and you[‘ve looked into how to become the professional you so desire to be, it’s time to look at the different roles in a kitchen. Generally speaking, there are four types of chef that operate in most kitchens that run professionally. It’s a hierarchy and should be treated as such, most of the time you can’t skip one of the levels to get ahead. Each role gives you various skills and experience that are imperative to becoming the best and most successful chef you can be.
Apprentice or trainee chefs are more commonly known as a commis chef, this role is where you’ll get the basic knowledge of how to do what a chef does. As a commis chef, you’ll develop your culinary knowledge and increase your technical skills through food preparation. You’ll probably be under the eye of more experienced chefs who will supervise and advise. you’ll also be able to assist the next level up in expertise and prepare basic food and dishes.
Chef de Partie
The next step up in the kitchen is the role of chef de partie, these are section chefs, who are often in charge of one part of the kitchen, for example, pastry, sauces or fish. These sections of the kitchen are quite small and easily handled so a relatively inexperienced chef should be able to handle the management of basic aspects of regular dishes. Chefs de partie may also be asked to assist in developing new menus and dishes for the restaurant.
Second in command to the top of the food chain are sous chefs. These chefs aren’t to be underestimated, they are just as good as head chefs, but still need a little more experience before they are overseeing an entire kitchen as head chef. Sous chefs tend to oversee the day to day running of the kitchen, they may not deal with any of the red tape or business admin that comes with being head or executive chef, but in the kitchen itself, they can run service like a pro. They’ll also likely be tasked with managing inventory and stock levels while implementing safety and hygiene procedures. Training and developing junior chefs may come under a sous chef’s responsibilities as the person with the most responsibility purely in the kitchen. Of course, sous chefs also prepare and plate dishes and are a key part in menu development.
Chef de Cuisine
The very top of the hierarchal pyramid is Chefs de Cuisine or head chefs or executive chefs. These are the top dogs in the kitchen and guide the general creative vision and the drives the direction of the food that is being created. Head chefs deal with recruitment as well as the business admin side of the running of a kitchen such as estimating product costs and calculating losses fro waste. Every dish that leaves the kitchen should be signed off by the head chef and they are the big boss in all kitchens.
Occasionally, chefs are able to make more than a decent living, some even becoming rich in the process. But most of the time, life as a chef is a modest living. Chefs go into the career for their love of food and not the love of money/