Here at Le Cordon Bleu, we work with and have taught some of the world’s best chefs. From Michelin-starred head chefs to renowned master pâtissiers, we know what it takes to become a chef, because we have seen it first-hand countless times.
In this article, we will explain what is involved in becoming a chef, answering common questions such as “what kind of experience do you need to become a chef?” and “what skills are required to be a chef?”
What Does it Take to Be a Chef?
So what are the qualities of a successful chef? First and foremost, every successful chef must have a genuine love for food. Have you spent your whole life experimenting with flavour, texture and mouthfeel? Did you grow up learning family recipes to eventually reformulate them into something truly special?
Of course, every chef must also have a strong work ethic. With high-pressure situations and long hours some days, total commitment and dedication is very important part of the job. Are you ready to take on busy shifts, multitask and be a team leader?
As a chef, you must, of course, be naturally creative. You will also need a keen eye for attention to detail, from perfecting your timings to beautiful, precise presentation.
You must also be a strong team player, able to collaborate effectively and respectfully with the entire team, from fellow chefs to kitchen porters, waiting staff and managers. If you aspire to become a head chef, you will also need to be a good leader. Due to the fast-paced environment of the kitchen, the ability to make crucial decisions quickly is also key.
What Training Do I Need?
First and foremost a passion for food is required. It is important that everyone who enter this field possess a love for food and cooking. However, in order to become a professional chef, you will need a professional qualification. Luckily, Le Cordon Bleu have produced some of the best chefs in the world, so we know a thing or two about training skilled culinary professionals. We offer a wide range of programmes in the culinary arts, from the Grand Diplôme® to the Diplôme de Pâtisserie, the Diplôme de Boulangerie and more.
Not only are our programmes accredited under an “Investing in Quality” licence from national awarding organisation NCFE, they are also internationally-recognised as some of the most highly reputed culinary qualifications in the world. With Michelin-starred tutors, state-of-the-art facilities and unrivalled industry contacts, we’re the best place for you to undertake your culinary training.
Should I Have Work Experience?
While having professional work experience is certainly an advantage, it’s not a prerequisite. Many students begin their training at Le Cordon Bleu with no experience in a professional kitchen.
At Le Cordon Bleu, we’ll equip you with the skills you need before giving students the option of completing work experience in some of London’s top hotel and restaurant kitchens. Work experience develops your cooking skills further and your ability to work in the high-pressure environment of a professional kitchen, and provides fantastic networking opportunities that could lead to employment further down the line.
What Are the Different Types of Chefs?
Working as a chef, you will often have to work your way up the ranks among a team. There are, in fact, various different chef roles in the kitchens of today, so it is worth thinking about which you aspire to fulfil.
The first role you are likely to take on is that of Commis Chef. This is a junior chef in training who is still learning from their other team members. Commis Chef reports to Chef de Partie.
Chef de Partie
A Chef de Partie is responsible for covering a specific area of the kitchen, whether it be working with fish, grills or vegetables. In larger kitchens, this may comprise a team with junior and senior chefs.
A Sous Chef is ‘second in command’, being actively involved in the running of the kitchen, often filling in for the Head Chef.
The Head Chef runs the kitchen, managing the entire kitchen team, working with suppliers and managers and, often, creating menus.
Finally, there is the Executive Chef. The Executive Chef is the kitchen's most senior position and the title holder usually oversees multiple departments and outlets. Executive Chefs are responsible for staff recruitment and development, as well as all costings and kitchen finances. They're also responsible for ongoing menu ideation, development and the culinary innovation.
Is Becoming a Chef a Good Career Choice?
There are many reasons why becoming a chef is a good career choice. First of all, you will be able to work in a job that feeds your passion every day. This is a highly creative field, where you will be actively rewarded for ‘thinking outside the box’ and creating new dishes.
However, there are also more practical benefits to working as a chef, from the ability to travel extensively for work, to the option of becoming a business owner, and the space for flexible working hours, which can accommodate your lifestyle and personal commitments.
What Does a Typical Working Week Look Like?
One thing that will either attract or repel those thinking of becoming a chef is that chefs are generally “on” when everyone else is “off”. As a chef, you will typically work long hours, with 50-70 hour weeks being standard. Nowadays, most chefs will work a 5-day week, however, some kitchens may require longer working hours, which means chefs can also work 4-days and 3-days off.
A chef's typical day starts with a quick briefing with the Head/Sous Chef and the surrounding team. At this meeting, tasks will be assigned to each chef and team member. This often includes a quick review of the previous day where areas of improvement are identified. Your role could also involve ordering ingredients, formulating menus, cleaning up and talking to colleagues and customers.
As you would expect, the busiest periods as a chef are during lunch, dinner hours and at weekends, which means you will have to make your social life work around your job. However, working as a chef is a highly sociable occupation in and of itself, and the flexible working hours make this lifestyle highly desirable for many.
What are the Typical Duties of a Chef?
As we have suggested, working as a chef is a varied and dynamic role with various responsibilities. Just a few of these involve:
- Preparing menus
- Taking stock
- Working with top quality ingredients
- Plate presentation
- Experimenting and developing new ideas and introducing new dishes
- Prepping seasonal menus and dishes
- Recruiting, training and developing chefs
- Developing new restaurant concepts
- Working close with the service team and the sommeliers on the food and wine pairing and other matters
- Participating different conferences and food-related events
Depending on your role, you may also be expected to manage a team of junior chefs, waiters and kitchen porters. As Head Chef and official “face” of the restaurant you may also be involved in various marketing activities.
What Type of Salary Can I Expect to Earn?
As with any career, salaries are dependent on experience, qualifications, location and the reputation of the establishment. However, as a ballpark figure, a Commis Chef at a good restaurant can expect to start on 20 - 22K, while Executive Chefs can earn up to 80K depending on the business.
What are the Main Steps to Becoming a Chef?
To summarise, here are the steps you need to take to become a chef.
- Obtain a relevant school qualification, e.g GSCE or A Level certification.
- Join a professional culinary school.
- Pass your culinary school exams and earn a professional qualification.
- Obtain work experience in a professional kitchen.
- Find a full-time job in a top restaurant.
Is Being a Chef the Career for You?
So, is a chef career right for you? There are plenty of elements to weigh up:
- Do you have the personal and professional traits necessary for the job?
- Does it fit in with your desired lifestyle?
- Are you motivated to put in the hard work?
- And, most importantly, are you excited by the idea of working with food in a reputed establishment?
if the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then working as a chef may be your true calling. To find out more about how we can help you get there, contact us
today on +44 (0)20 7400 3900.