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Working in a hospital kitchen is quite different from working in a high street restaurant, but a hospital Chef job is a rewarding experience in its own way. Providing nutritious meals for people who are ill or recovering from an operation is an important role for a hospital Chef or Cook and working in healthcare is a good place to learn more about special dietary needs.
Being a Chef in a hospital requires you to prepare nutritious, appetising food for the patients. There are usually set menus each day but in a hospital setting there will be many people with individual requirements so you need to understand the necessary medical and cultural diets that have to be catered for. There will be patients requiring soft food, others on a low fat or gluten free diet and then there could be vegetarian, kosher and halal meals. You need to know and understand how to prepare and cook all of these.
Most NHS hospitals have quite large commercial kitchens with a catering team of Chefs, Cooks and Assistants, often with a Head Chef overseeing them. As a hospital Chef you won’t have any contact with the patients but you need to plan the meals and menus according to their needs, which will change each day as patients come and go. Storing food, preparing and cooking meals and plating food, ensuring it stays hot until delivery to the patient, are all part of the everyday tasks in a hospital kitchen environment.
Most hospitals, whether private or NHS, will require Chefs to have catering experience and a catering qualification. To enter the NHS as a Chef you need to have at least a level 2 catering NVQ. As a step onto the Chef career ladder, there are opportunities within the NHS to begin as a catering assistant and study for qualifications while you work.
Any hospital Chef or cook needs to enjoy cooking and be physically fit in order to cope with the demands of standing, lifting and working in an often hot and noisy environment.
Hospital catering staff are required to have a valid DBS dated within the last 12 months and most positions will need you to have a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate dated within the last 3 years.
Working in a hospital environment means you have to be even more vigilant about food hygiene and safety. The people you are cooking for are at higher risk of developing a foodbourne illness if exposed to contaminated food. The most recent case was a listeria outbreak in 2019, affecting patients in hospitals across the UK. Although linked to outside caterers, it is a reminder that hospital catering staff must be extremely attentive to good food hygiene and safety practices.
Working as a hospital Chef is suitable for anyone wanting to work in the catering industry with standard hours. You may have to work shifts which can involve early starts, evenings and weekends, but the hours are set and are less likely to overrun as they can in a restaurant or hotel setting. If you are keen to learn more about catering for special diets then being a hospital Chef is a good job for acquiring that knowledge. There is no other place where you will find such a concentration of people with specific dietary requirements.
To find out more about how to become a Chef, read our Hospitality and Catering Career Guides.
There are private and NHS hospitals in most towns throughout the UK so there will always be a need for hospital Chefs. The hours are reasonably sociable and although you may have to work different shifts, this flexibility can sometimes be an advantage if you have other commitments. As a hospital Chef you will work as part of a cohesive team and there are opportunities to advance your career by taking on a supervisory or management role.
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