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The Chef Trade

Food & Drink


Being a chef is hard work, especially in the early days, and few chefs make it to the status of a media celebrity like Gordon Ramsey,Jamie Oliver or Rachel Allen. But undertaking a chef course and training to work in a professional kitchen does offer you opportunities to be creative, to work abroad and to reap the reward of seeing satisfied clients.

To make it as a chef you’ll need to be comfortable with pressure and multi-tasking. You’ll have to be comfortable giving and receiving orders in a team environment. And you’ll need stamina, as you’ll be working on your feet in a hot environment.

The chef trade is as varied and enjoyable as you make it. If you stick with it, you’re creative and you love the trade, you’ll win recognition and respect within your profession and the industry.

It’s a trade that provides you with a valuable life skill – the ability to nourish yourself, which gives you the energy to take life on in a positive way. Once qualified, a chef takes that skill with them wherever they go.

Find out more about working as a chef

The Workplace:

As a chef you can work in any number of environments from hotels, restaurants, bars, cafés, catering companies, company canteens and hospitals. In all of these situations, when service has started, the kitchen becomes a very busy place to work.

The organisation of a kitchen will vary from one establishment to another, according to requirements, such as volume of business and style of service. Large kitchens are divided up into sections, called ‘brigades’, each run by a Section Chef and specialising in a different activity.

In smaller kitchens each Section Chef will look after a number of sections, for example the preparation of fish, poultry, meat and veg; soups and sauces; cold food and pastry chef.

It’s not generally a 9 to 5 job - most chefs work on a shift basis over seven days a week. The standard uniform - designed with food hygiene in mind - is a hat, necktie, double-breasted jacket, apron, checked trousers and steel-capped shoes.

The Career Path:

Entry level is as a Commis Chef or apprentice, and in this role you are responsible for preparing ingredients and doing basic cooking. It takes 3-4 years in this position to earn your stripes, but if you have done a 2-year course you will usually go in as a 3rd year commis. A commis chef will usually work for a time in each area of the kitchen, under the guidance of the senior chef, to gain a good general experience.

Section Chefs or line cooks and are skilled enough to be in charge of a brigade or section of the kitchen, e.g. salads, and run it competently. They supervise staff, equipment and processing of raw materials in specialised areas, and are involved in the practical training of their section staff. They report to the sous chef (or executive chef depending on the size of the kitchen).
A Pastry Chef works in a large kitchen, hotel or bakery and is responsible for all breads, cakes and desserts. Pastry chefs who work in bakeries will work different hours than in a restaurant and may work through the night to have fresh breads and pastries available from early morning.

< Sous Chef is second in command; they deputise for the head chef when they are off duty and they usually run the kitchen day-to-day, with responsibility for rosters, ordering, menu planning and staff training.
As an Executive or Head Chef you are usually the department head responsible for all culinary units in a restaurant or foodservice business. In a large business you might work alongside a Food & Beverage Manager. You are responsible for overall standards of culinary practice in the company including quality control, stock control, budgeting and financial planning. The executive chef also recruits staff and supervises them.  Check out our video of Head Chef David Kehoe.

There is also the opportunity to own your own business as Chef Proprietor, the likes of Phelim Byrne, Derry Clarke or Ross Lewis. They’ve reached the top of their profession at an early age and can say ‘no one’s the boss of me!’ 

Commis Chef
Chef de Partie
Pastry Chef
Sous Chef
Executive/ Head Chef

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