How to develop your career in a professional kitchen

How to develop your career in a professional kitchen
How to develop your career in a professional kitchen

posted 23 Aug 23

If you’re an enthusiastic foodie who impersonates a top chef within the comfort of your home, it may be time to consider pursuing a culinary career in a professional kitchen. However, it takes more than a love for food and obsession with television icons to succeed in the culinary industry. Read on to understand what it takes to break into the culinary industry and progress as a professional chef.

Breaking into the industry

Given the shortage of chefs within the UK, it is relatively easy to land an entry-level position in a restaurant kitchen. Many successful chefs start their careers at the commis level, with no formal qualifications or experience beforehand. Whilst the industry is easy to break into, its important to highlight that keeping pace with the pressurised environment and kitchen demands will be a daily challenge.

In terms of qualifications, recommends that as part of the food safety requirements in any food handling workplace, a food hygiene certificate, such as the CIEH Foundation Certificate in Food Hygiene).

Meanwhile, for professional chef qualifications - NVQ level 2 in Cookery is the route taken by many chefs who wish to continue studying their craft alongside their current roles. Many of the units covered in this course are also included in the VRQ route and other chef diplomas.

The NVQ Level 3 Professional Cookery Diploma provides more advanced, sophisticated techniques. These skills help those aiming to become a chef in the UK to market their skills to high-end establishments.

Climbing the ladder in a professional kitchen

Think of the kitchen brigade system as a four-step ladder for career progression. You can enter the industry as a commis chef and progress to chef de partie, followed by sous chef, and eventually head chef. Provided that you land a role as a commis chef in a reputable restaurant or hotel, you will have the opportunity to learn and practice all the basic fundamentals of working in a professional kitchen. Chefs who have attended college will have an advantage at this stage, as they have already learned and practised the basic skills.

Once you have broken into the industry, the next position is the chef de partie where you can expect to run a section of the kitchen. The next step for the career chef will be to move into their first management position as a sous chef. The sous chef is the right-hand person of the head chef. The head chef is the boss of the kitchen.

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The skills needed to progress in the industry

In order to be a pro in the kitchen, you need to cultivate and develop a certain set of skills. We recommend you demonstrate the following if you want to progress in your role:

1. Organisation and attention to detail

Although culinary experimentation can be an exciting aspect of working in the kitchen, any seasoned chef knows there is more to cooking then simply slapping ingredients together and hoping for the best. Cooking is a science, which means that precision and accuracy is crucial to consistently produce dishes of an optimal standard.

Furthermore, precision should be an ongoing process rather than a switch to flip on at the beginning of service. Whether ordering food products or figuring out what time to cook certain items, a chef requires a keen eye for detail.

2. Business sense

Restaurants often go under due to poor business management, and as the chief stewards of the product(s) sold to consumers, good chefs should be business-minded. Gordon Ramsey isn’t a household name simply because he can cook great food but because he understands that chefs need to create good dishes which appeal to the tastes of local customers and patrons and are cost-effective.


3. Cleanliness

It should go without saying, but great chefs are also cleanliness fanatics! Chefs must know how to keep the kitchen sanitary and direct others to do the same. A restaurant with unhygienic conditions can affect the quality of the food, the safety of customers and even force a restaurant to shut down.

4. Creativity

Stagnation in the kitchen is one of the quickest ways to kill a restaurant’s success. To succeed as a chef, you must be open to incorporating new food items into menus whilst improving existing recipes. Creativity and innovation will keep menus fresh and ensure customers return for more.

5. Fast-paced decision-making and multitasking

The kitchen is a highly pressurised environment, and chefs are likely to be making numerous decisions at once. As such, you need the ability and confidence to make decisions swiftly whilst maintaining a high standard and attention to detail. Furthermore, you will also need to perform multiple tasks simultaneously and efficiently, such as addressing staff issues while working on several elements of a meal.

6. Team player

A chef is part of a team and must be able to work well with others. Not only must they work with the cooks in the kitchen, but they must also be able to work effectively with staff and management. The ability to collaborate and work well within a team is essential to propel your career in the kitchen.

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