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Kitchen Job Descriptions

Find below a guide to the main Kitchen positions, including job description and responsibilities:

 

Kitchen Assistant

What's in a day?

As a kitchen attendant – or kitchen assistant – you are effectively the engine room of the kitchen. Working under the guidance of a kitchen supervisor or chef de partie, your job is to ensure that the kitchen is clean and operational. In some kitchens, you may also be involved in preparing ingredients, so it's a great stepping stone to becoming a chef.

Key responsibilities:

  • Ensuring the food preparation areas are clean and hygienic
  • Washing utensils and dishes and making sure they are stored appropriately
  • Sorting, storing and distributing ingredients
  • Washing, peeling, chopping, cutting and cooking foodstuffs and helping to prepare salads and desserts
  • Disposing of rubbish
  • Organising linen laundry
  • Cleaning the food preparation equipment, floors and other kitchen tools or areas

What sort of hours will I work?

It's split shifts, including some evenings and weekends, just like the rest of the brigade. Most jobs specify a 40 hour week, but you need to be prepared to work longer if necessary. That said, a lot of kitchen attendant jobs are part time.

What's the best bit about being a kitchen attendant?

You've got your foot on the first rung of the ladder to becoming a great chef.

 

And the worst?

It's hard, physical work.

 

What skills do I need?

  • Understanding the importance of health and hygiene
  • Plenty of stamina
  • A great team player
  • The ability to listen and learn – fast

What qualifications do I need?

This is the great bit – you don’t usually need any. If you’ve got a desire to learn to cook, common sense and commitment, you could go far.

Who would it suit?

This role is a dream for those of you who want to work as a chef, but haven’t been to catering college or obtained any qualifications. If you’ve got ambition and drive, you can train on the job and take advantage of your employer’s development programmes.

What sort of salary can I expect?

Some employers will offer you an hourly rate of £5.80-£7.20. Otherwise, you can expect a full time salary of about £12,000-£14,500.

Where can I go from here?

Many successful chefs have worked their way up to more senior positions by starting their careers in this way, so it’s up to you how hard you want to work.

Commis Chef

What's in a day?

Congratulations! As a commis chef you're on the first rung of the ladder to becoming a great chef. In most kitchens you'll do food preparation work and basic cooking under the supervision of a chef de partie or section chef, rotating through sections such as sauce, vegetables, fish and butchery roughly every six months.

This is your big chance to learn all there is to know about your trade, but the standard and style of cooking you do will be determined by your commitment and the type of hotel or restaurant you apply to work in – so choose carefully.

Key responsibilities:

  • Maintaining high standards of hygiene
  • Preparing the ingredients for a more senior chef
  • Measuring dish ingredients and portion sizes accurately
  • Dealing with deliveries and stock rotation

What sort of hours will I work?

Like most chefs, you'll work split shifts and a minimum of 40 hours a week.

 

What's the best bit about being a commis chef?

"There's a lot of banter with the boys – and the girls – in the kitchen," advises Tim Luff, head chef, The Fishes, a Peach Pub at North Hinksey, Oxford. "It's a great time for finding your feet, getting to know how things work and what makes the rest of the team tick as well."

And the worst?

"Plain and simple – it's hard, dirty work. There are lots of physically tough jobs to do, such as hauling things around the kitchen, as well as keeping on top of deliveries, which can be a challenge."

What skills do I need?

You'll need to have a lot of stamina, be able to learn on your feet and be passionate about food because cooking in a high pressure kitchen is hard work. You'll also need to be versatile, because it is important that you gain experience in all sections of the kitchen - fish, pastry, butchery and so on - before you consider specialising.

What qualifications do I need?

Arguably, you don't need any. You could, for instance, train on the job as a modern apprentice, or join a company with training programmes as a kitchen porter. Alternatively, you may have completed formal training. Check out what's on offer at colleges around the country, but in the meantime, here are a few work related qualifications that will help:

  • The 14-19 Hospitality & Catering diploma
  • NVQs or SVQs
  • City & Guilds diplomas in professional cookery
  • BTEC HND in professional cookery
  • A foundation degree in culinary arts
  • Any health & safety and food hygiene courses

Who would it suit?

Someone who loves cooking. Remember, this is one of the lowest ranking jobs in the kitchen, but if you're committed, a white hot career awaits.

What sort of salary can I expect?

Probably in the region of £12,000-£18,000, but, as most commis chefs stay in the role for four to five years, there is a discrepancy in salaries as they become more experienced.

Where can I go from here?

Let's face it, even Gordon Ramsay started as a commis chef, so head for the stars. The natural progression from commis chef is to demi-chef de partie, chef de partie (section chef) and then onwards and upwards to sous chef and head chef. In some kitchens you'll progress faster than in others, but it's often worth staying in the role for four to five years to do the groundwork.

Chef de partie

What's in a day?

As a chef de partie you get to oversee a section of the kitchen, be it pastry, butchery, fish, sauces, vegetables and so on. This is why the job is sometimes called a station chef or line cook. In large kitchens, you usually get help from a demi-chef de partie, commis or trainee chef. Chances are that you'll be cooking fine dining or French dishes, but modern kitchens offering informal or contemporary menus generally have two or three sections, too.

Key responsibilities:

  • Preparing, cooking and presenting dishes within your speciality
  • Managing and training any demi-chef de parties or commis working with you
  • Helping the sous chef and head chef to develop new dishes and menus
  • Ensuring you and your team have high standards of food hygiene and follow the rules of health and safety
  • Monitoring portion and waste control to maintain profit margins

What sort of hours will I work?

You'll probably have to work split shifts and at least 40 hours a week.

 

What's the best bit about being a chef de partie?

"This is a chance to work more closely with - and be inspired by - your head chef," says Tim Luff, head chef, The Fishes, a Peach Pub in North Hinksey, Oxford. "You can learn so much in this role and the inspiration you get is brilliant, especially in a really good kitchen."

And the worst?

"I'd have to say all the prep you still have to do, like peeling spuds."

What skills do I need?

  • Great cooking skills
  • A cool head
  • An ability to delegate appropriately
  • Organisational flair
  • A grasp of profit margins

What qualifications do I need?

You can work your way up the kitchen brigade by taking the modern apprenticeship route as well as studying for an NVQ or SVQ. Alternatively, you can study full-time at college. Most chef de parties will have spent four years as a commis chef and have at least NVQ/SVQ Level 2 or equivalent under their toque. Other useful qualifications include:

  • The 14-19 Hospitality & Catering diploma
  • City & Guilds diplomas in professional cookery
  • BTEC HND in professional cookery
  • A foundation degree in culinary arts
  • Any health and safety and food hygiene courses

Who would it suit?

Someone who's got bags of stamina and enjoys the fast pace of working in a kitchen. You also need to be able to stay calm and work as part of a team during a frenetic service. As head of your section you need to be confident enough to manage the commis chefs working with you - and to give them clear instructions.

What sort of salary can I expect?

The average UK salary for a chef de partie is £18,300 to £20,400, but obviously location and the style of restaurant will affect this.
Source: Totaljobs.com 2010

Where can I go from here?

The only way is up - to sous chef, executive chef. Or you could think outside the box and become a production chef, or take your skills abroad.

Sous chef

What's in a day?

Rumour has it that it’s the sous chef rather than the head chef who runs the brigade. That’s because, in big kitchens at least, the head chef has other fish to fry.

Certainly, the role of sous chef is challenging, as you'll be expected to make sure the brigade is producing top-quality cuisine and that chefs with talent are trained and developed. In addition, you’ll have to take charge of the kitchen in the head chef’s absence.

Key responsibilities:

  • Running the kitchen when the head chef is away
  • Ensuring your brigade has high culinary standards
  • Managing food purchasing and storage
  • Maintaining a safe and hygienic kitchen environment
  • Helping create new recipes and write menus

What sort of hours will I work?

Most chefs at whatever level work split shifts, including weekends and evenings. You’ll work at least 40 hours a week, but probably longer – particularly in fine-dining kitchens. However, in some sectors of contract catering, such as education and B&I, you might work office hours.

What's the best bit about being a sous chef?

This is a responsible, creative job where you can really flex your talents.

 

And the worst?

The pressure is really on in this role, so you’ve got to make sure you don’t burn out before you hit the big time.

What skills do I need?

  • A flair with ingredients
  • An ability to stay calm when the pressure mounts
  • Strong leadership skills to motivate your brigade of chefs
  • First rate culinary skills

What qualifications do I need?

Many sous chefs have got where they are today by training on the job and taking every opportunity for placements (or stages) in top kitchens. However, formal qualifications will undoubtedly get you to the top faster. You can work your way up the ranks by taking the Modern Apprenticeship route as well as studying for NVQs or SVQs. Alternatively, you can study full time at college. Useful qualifications include:

  • City & Guilds diplomas in professional cookery
  • BTEC HND in professional cookery
  • A foundation degree in culinary arts
  • Any health and safety and food hygiene courses

Who would it suit?

Obviously, you won’t get far if you can’t cook, but to really see some action behind the stove, you need passion and a love of ingredients. You'll be someone who performs well under pressure and recognises the importance of motivating and leading junior members of staff who may also be working under pressure.

What sort of salary can I expect?

The UK average is £23,138-£25,549, but you can earn more.
Source: Totaljobs.com - 2009

Where can I go from here?

Well, if you’ve got talent and you’ve put in the hours, there really isn’t anything standing between you and the role of head chef.

Head or executive chef

What's in a day?

As a head or executive chef you're as close to a superhero as it gets in the kitchen. Everyone in the brigade, from the kitchen porter to the sous chef, looks to you for inspiration – and you'll have to hold your own with the front of house restaurant staff, too.

To be blunt, your menus will set the tone for the restaurant, and the quality and pricing of the food you produce could arguably make or break the business.

Key responsibilities:

  • Overall responsibility for daily operations in the kitchen
  • Liaising with purchasing companies for food orders
  • Maintaining or raising the profit margins on food
  • Producing menus and new dishes
  • Managing, training and recruiting a brigade of chefs

What sort of hours will I work?

You'll work split shifts like everyone else – at least a 40 hour week, but most likely whatever it takes to get the job done.

What's the best bit about being a sous chef?

"It's fantastic to have the freedom of expression with your food, to put your own stamp on the menu and to have more time for creativity and self expression," says Tim Luff, head chef, The Fishes, a Peach Pub in North Hinksey, Oxford.

And the worst?

"There's more paperwork than you'd think, and more people related things to worry about, for instance, when chefs in your brigade are off sick or on holiday. You can sometimes end up feeling like an agony aunt or uncle, too – dealing with problems when all you want to do is cook."

What skills do I need?

  • Excellent cooking skills
  • An understanding of produce and ingredients
  • The ability to write menus that are both creative and profitable
  • Blue chip management skills (ideally without the swearing)

What qualifications do I need?

Many head chefs have got where they are today by training on the job and taking every opportunity for placements (or stages) in top kitchens. However, formal qualifications will undoubtedly get you to the top faster. You can work your way up the ranks by taking the Modern Apprenticeship route as well as studying for NVQs or SVQs.

Alternatively, you can study full time at college. Useful qualifications include:

  • City & Guilds diplomas in professional cookery
  • BTEC HND in professional cookery
  • A foundation degree in culinary arts
  • Health and safety and food hygiene certificates

Who would it suit?

You're someone who hits the ground running at every shift, who enjoys the fast pace of the kitchen and can consistently produce top quality dishes under pressure. You're a born leader who relishes taking responsibility for the running of the kitchen, but also knows when and how to delegate. As for your warm, cuddly side, you have an unstoppable talent for creating new dishes and menus.

What sort of salary can I expect?

It all depends on your skills and the style of hotel or restaurant, so you could be earning anything from £20,000 to £150,000
Source: Chess Partnership, 2009

Where can I go from here?

To a better restaurant, a cruise ship, an international hotel, consultant for a group of restaurants, a contract catering post with more sociable hours, product development – or you could find an investor and launch your own place.

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