Chef Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career
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What Does a Chef Do?
A chef is the head of the kitchen in a catering or dining establishment. Chefs possess comprehensive food preparation skills and expertise and are responsible for creating menus, preparing dishes and coordinating the work of the other kitchen staff.
Chefs prepare and cook dishes of all types, from starters through to desserts. They are responsible for both flavour and presentation, aiming to ensure that the food that leaves their kitchen not only tastes great, but also looks appetizing. As well as being responsible for cooking operations and for coordinating the work of the entire kitchen crew, chefs - as the head of the kitchen - also have a range of other organizational and administrative duties. These include ordering raw materials, selecting suppliers, managing food stocks, determining the cost of dishes and setting prices. Chefs are also responsible for food safety and maintaining high standards of hygiene in the kitchen.
In smaller, less formal establishments, a chef’s duties are mainly operational, i.e. cooking, managing provisions and ensuring the kitchen is kept clean and tidy. High-end restaurants, hotels and other dining establishments with a full complement of kitchen staff, on the other hand, may have an executive chef who, while perhaps occasionally cooking and devising new dishes, has more of a managerial role, e.g. creating menus, coordinating food preparation, assigning tasks to other chefs and cooks, managing the budget, planning shifts and hiring new kitchen staff - in close coordination with the restaurant management team (the Restaurant Manager or the Food and Beverage Manager in a hotel).
Either way, as the cornerstone of a restaurant kitchen, the role of chef is one of great responsibility, involving coordinating the kitchen staff, managing food purchases within the budget limits (i.e. ensuring customers are always served quality produce, while reducing waste to a minimum) and maximising the profitability value from the work of the kitchen staff.
Chefs are employed anywhere that food is prepared and served, including restaurants, hotels, canteens, snack bars, and cruise ships, as well as by companies offering catering and banqueting services.
The level of training and specialization required by a chef depends on where they work. Chefs working in canteens, cafeterias and fast food outlets do not have any special training requirements, while pastry chefs, fish chefs and pizzaiolos all need to learn specific skills. A common feature of all cooking jobs, however, is the fundamental importance of good technique. Essentially, while there is undoubtedly room for creativity in the job of a chef, the real secret to turning out perfect dishes every time and managing a restaurant kitchen effectively is a mastery of culinary skills and methods.
The job of a chef is a very demanding one. Kitchen work is fast-paced and frenetic, involving standing for hours on end in a hot, steamy environment, with common job hazards including cuts and burns.
In spite of all this, however, it can be one of the most rewarding professions there is, offering talented individuals an opportunity to express their ability and their passion for food.
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Chef: Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties of a chef are:
- Creating menus
- Cooking food
- Monitoring prep work
- Ensuring impeccable presentation and garnishing
- Managing food provisions
- Ensuring quality of ingredients and correct food storage
- Using and cleaning kitchen equipment
- Organizing and supervising work of kitchen staff (e.g. kitchen assistants, dishwashers etc.)
How to Become a Chef - Education, Requirements, Qualifications
Aspiring chefs can opt to take a diploma in catering and hospitality from a technical school or college - a qualification that is widely recognized by employers in the restaurant trade. Alternatively, the basic skills required to become a professional chef - including food preparation techniques and methods, food production and storage, food hygiene and quality control and restaurant management - are taught at a wide range of culinary schools and academies, as well as in chef training courses.
Of course, learning the theory is all well and good, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Which is why taking a job in an actual kitchen, as a commis chef or kitchen assistant, is absolutely essential for anybody wanting to learn the ropes and improve their cooking skills.
Also vital, of course, is a desire to learn and grow continuously without settling in a comfort zone. Essentially, the real secret to making it to the very top is never making the mistake of thinking you’ve arrived.
What Skills Are Needed to Work as a Chef?
Job adverts for chefs typically request the following skills:
- Professional cooking skills
- Good manual dexterity
- Creativity and talent
- Accuracy and precision
- Strong organizational and planning skills
- Ability to cope with stress and fatigue
Career Path and What to Expect
What's the career objective of a chef?
A career in a restaurant kitchen typically begins at the bottom, as an apprentice chef (commis chef) or kitchen assistant, where new recruits generally work under the supervision of more experienced staff.
Following a number of years of experience, talented chefs who have also demonstrated strong planning and organizational abilities will have the opportunity to progress to the position of chef de partie (also known as station chef or line chef) and subsequently sous chef, before eventually rising to become head chef (or executive chef, as the person at the top of the kitchen hierarchy is often known in large international restaurant chains).
An alternative career option for a chef is to go into business and open up their own restaurant, where they will enjoy total freedom to express their passion and talent.
Top Reasons to Work as a Chef
The key ingredients for a successful career as a chef are creativity and a passion for cooking, accompanied by strong technical skills. Chefs are creators, forever engaged in a quest to invent new dishes and recipes that offer something fresh, exciting, innovative and tasty. It is precisely this aspect - the discovery of new ingredients, cooking methods and cuisines - that makes the job of a professional chef an ongoing learning experience that offers endless possibilities for experimentation.
A further advantage of working as a chef is being able to decide where in the world to work. Here too, the possibilities are infinite, ranging from the local eatery around the corner, to a restaurant in an exotic location abroad, or even - why not - taking to the seas as a chef on a cruise ship.