How being a head chef is much more than cooking. The route to becoming a head chef and the options once established along with possible further abilities needed.
Cooking a gastronomic masterpiece may be just the tip of the iceberg
If you are interested in forging a career as a head chef, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s much to consider and become proficient at beyond creating wonderful dishes with your ‘signature’ culinary techniques.
It’s a rewarding career and, thanks to the rise of the celebrity chef and more venues such as pubs offering not just food but dining of a high standard, it’s becoming a very popular choice amongst younger creative people.
If the allure of becoming a head chef extends beyond working in a top restaurant or hotel kitchen to maybe running your own restaurant or gastro pub, then you’ll eventually find yourself acquiring all sorts of other skills.
There is more to being a chef than just creating mouthwatering dishes for your diners. Head chefs are usually also responsible for the management of the kitchen, including ordering food, hiring staff and ensuring that all the required documents are in place, such as health & safety certificates, employer liability insurance, and public liability insurance, both of which are absolutely vital in a restaurant, or any other food serving establishment. Employer liability insurance is a legal requirement for any business that employs staff, even if they are temp workers or casual staff.
Becoming a chef
It’s possible to totally learn ‘on the job’ by getting work in a hotel or restaurant, although taking a formal route to start with is often advised. These are the basic steps to take.
With the best will in the world, you could learn some bad habits if taking the ‘on the job’ route. A trained musician may deliberately go against the grain of their formal training to create some great music, but they know what the rules are first before breaking them. Likewise, if you have a basis of formal training there’s nothing to stop you ‘doing your own thing’ to create delicious food once you know what the ‘rules’ are.
Usually studied over three years, the Professional Chef Diploma is at three NVQ levels and is highly regarded within the industry and, as such, is likely to be a big help in your getting a start in a job somewhere once you’ve completed it.
You’ll need to fully commit to this path; universities and colleges will look for true passion for the industry as the course is three intensive years including time spent working in actual restaurants and kitchens.
Beyond this there’s the Advanced Chef Diploma; this is run on a day release basis and would be taken once you’re working within the industry as it’s designed to enhance knowledge and abilities.
You may be interested in studying more generalised hospitality and management with a view to running a restaurant from a commercial perspective, and maybe opening your own not as the actual ‘keynote’ chef yourself but as an owner employing a head chef and other staff. If so, a BTEC National Diploma Certificate in hospitality supervision may be a route worth considering.
Once you’re an established head chef
You may find yourself eventually controlling other chefs and thus taking a management or at least a supervisory role within the organisation you’re working for.
You could be working with trainee chefs along with more experienced people and be involved in recruiting and training. Personal skills and a knowledge of the procedures required when handling staff could be required, so be prepared for more learning.
Maybe your role will evolve more into the general management and business side of the operation, so assessing ordering requirements for food stock and related items may be part of your job. Therefore, an awareness of budgets and order planning might be required.
Your own enterprise
You may eventually open your own restaurant or go into partnership with others in a venture such as a hotel or other hospitality-related establishment. If so, and your business isn’t initially (or ever likely to be) large enough to hire a manager, you’ll be looking after everything from the petty cash to ordering toilet requisites.
Naturally, marketing will be a key skill to learn so you’ll likely need to become ‘web savvy’ so as to take advantage of the way you can promote yourself online and make your market aware of who you are and what you offer. Therefore, online promotion and advertising knowledge will be important as will the most effective use of social media.
Book keeping and basic accounts will be a core skill. You’ll likely want or likely need an accountant or at least a professional book keeper, but you’ll need at least some knowledge of this topic to understand the finances of your business.
Not just cooking
It’s an interesting and exciting proposition becoming a head chef as your career could take you in various different directions. One thing is more than likely, you’ll probably need more skills and abilities than just the ability to wow local and national restaurant and food critics.