Male Head Chef on the phone and writing

How to become a Head Chef?

Overview

Job Role Head Chef 
Responsibilities Overseeing all parts of the kitchen, creating menus, budget management 
Salary £13.84 per hour / £27,000 per year
Dress Code

Top: Usually a chef white (long or short sleeved) or plain t-shirt
Bottoms: Usually black or checkered chef trousers
Apron: Usually a plain or butcher’s striped apron
Shoes: Black kitchen-safe chef shoes
Gloves: Chef’s scull cap and/or hair net if required


What do I need to do to become a Head Chef? 

You’ve proved to yourself and your colleagues that you’re capable of running the kitchen as sous chef. Now it’s time to take the leap into the role of head chef. This is normally the highest-ranking position in the kitchen, and it comes with lots more responsibility. Plus you’ll get creative control over the menu, the freedom to introduce exciting new ingredients, and the chance to maintain a happy team.

There’s no real in-between role for this, so make sure you are ready for the challenge before you begin to apply for head chef jobs. Though, of course, there’s no harm in looking at possible vacancies and doing some research before you take the plunge.

As head chef, it will be down to you to oversee all parts of the kitchen. From ensuring great dishes are served up, food hygiene standards are met and your staff turn up for shifts, you’ll either be delegating these tasks or doing them yourself.

The average salary for a head chef in the UK is similar to that of a sous chef at around £27,000 a year, according to caterer.com. But, of course, this can vary greatly depending on the type and size of establishment. You’ll also get paid more in big cities and there will always be room to negotiate hours and salary once you’re offered a job.

But what does a head chef do? There are many areas of the kitchen that will need your attention as a head chef. And the amount of hands-on work you do will often depend on the size of the establishment.

An important responsibility of the head chef is dictating the menu. This is the part of your work that the customers see, and a great chance to show your creativity and flair. However, of course, it will need to be feasible in terms of service and costs in line with the financial goals of the business.

As the head chef you’ll also be liaising with owners and business directors about the finances and direction of the menu. From the start you need to make sure you know what results they want to see from the business and the steps you can take to achieve that.

Understanding the numbers is key, says Greg Lambert, executive chef at Six Restaurant, part of the Fresh Element Group in Newcastle upon Tyne. “My advice would be to make sure you have a real passion for not only food and service, but for business. A very large percentage of my job is spent looking at product costs, wage budget and gross profit.”

“No matter how well we can cook, if the business doesn’t make money, then we won’t be in a job to cook that food anymore. That is something that you really learn with age. When you are young eager cook, all that matters is cooking the best dish you can and pleasing the head chef. As head chef, it is about cooking the best dish you can within the parameters of your business,” he says.

This business expertise is something you’ll be constantly building on but never forget the value of your experience and commitment. You’ll also need to have confidence in yourself, as well as respect for your staff and the food you’re serving up.

“Working as a head chef is highly pressured role. It can be very rewarding when you deliver an excellent service and all the staff and customers leave happy,” says Lambert. “You put more stress and pressure on yourself to continually create new dishes or come up with ideas.”

You will also be involved in hiring all back of house staff, with support from the sous chef. And there will need to be ongoing training for your chefs to ensure the highest levels of food preparation and cooking are maintained. Wherever you work, your team is the foundation upon which to build kitchen success. So, as the head chef you’ll want to invest a lot of time and energy in these people.

Together with making sure your staff members are well trained, you’ll also want to ensure they are motivated. As you will know from working for many years in kitchens, it can sometimes be a hard slog. Not every day as a commis chef or CDP feels like a success, and everyone has bad services. You’re there to encourage your chefs to do better and support them with things they find difficult. Although managing so many people in a high-pressured environment can be tough, it will reap rewards when the team pulls together and has a great service.

Unless it’s a brand new kitchen, suppliers will already be in place to deliver fresh and dry products. It’s a good idea to introduce yourself to them and make them work hard for you. Once you’ve learned the kitchen operations, you could look around at changing suppliers if the current ones aren’t providing what you need.

For such an important step in your career, it’s worth spending time to look around at the type of place you’d like to work in. While employers may put out job adverts online, it’s still worth going into places you like and talking to the restaurant manager or owner about potential opportunities.

Once you get offered an interview for a head chef role, it’s essential to be prepared. Go into the interview confidently, and be armed with questions for the potential employer. Gather as much information about the place as you need to decide if this is the role for you. And don’t be afraid to negotiate on your hours and salary.

Head chef is normally the highest rank in a kitchen, with chefs moving through the ranks of commis chef, chef de partie and sous chef before reaching the top. However, in larger hospitality groups, catering companies and hotel chains you may find there are executive chef roles. These jobs lean more towards the management and recruitment side, and may be a great way to gain more work-life balance and less hands-on time running the kitchen.

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