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Career Culinary Pathway

There are four types of chefs within most professional kitchens, operating within a ranked or hierarchical structure. They are:

  • apprentice or trainee chefs, known as Commis Chefs
  • section chefs, known as Chefs de Partie or Line Cooks
  • Sous Chefs, who act as the second-in-command of the kitchen
  • Head/Executive Chefs, who are responsible for the management of the entire kitchen and are also known as Chefs de Cuisine.

Professional kitchens are high-pressure environments that operate under very strict time deadlines, and on the whole, Chefs will in a team environment and must be willing to work flexible rosters, and if you are looking at a Culinary career, you need to have these essential skills and qualities: 

  • A knowledge and understanding of basic cooking and food hygiene techniques
  • The ability to work calmly and quickly under pressure in a crowded, loud and fast-paced environment
  • Strong teamwork and communication skills
  • A willingness to learn and take on board instruction and constructive criticism
  • A high level of organisation skills and the ability to prioritise and delegate
  • Attention to detail in order to ensure consistency
  • A hardworking and robust approach
  • The ability to work independently when required.

Depending on your role and level of seniority, your responsibilities will vary.

Commis chefs: (0 to 2 years)

It is important to remember that everyone starts at the bottom.  The Commis Chef is like an apprentice or trainee.  You will not be whipping up gourmet souffles in this position but will be doing a lot of the donkey or grunt work, like endless chopping of the vegetables, sharpening knives, fetching and carrying and cleaning up.  This is, however, an ideal opportunity to work closely with the other chefs in the kitchen to learn the basics of food preparation, different and unique techniques and different cooking methods.   The Commis chef reports to the Sous Chef.

Typical Job Description and responsibilities:

  • To develop culinary knowledge and skills and learn technical preparation and cooking skills all under the supervision of more experienced chefs
  • To assist and help the Chef de Partie or Line Cooks in food preparation as required, ensuring orders are completed efficiently.
  • To maintain a clean, hygienic work area at all times

IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT IRRELEVANT OF WHAT QUALIFICATION YOU HAVE RECEIVED, WHETHER AN NZQA OR CITY AND GUILD, MOST BUDDING CHEFS WILL START AT THE BOTTOM, AS A COMMI CHEF (TRAINEE) AND WORK THEIR WAY UP THE LADDER DEPENDING ON THEIR PERSONAL GOALS AND ASPIRATIONS.

Chefs de Partie: (3 to 4 years)

If you have a desire to be a Chefs de Partie the ideal qualification is NZQA Level 4 or City & Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation & Culinary Arts (8065-02) or City & Guilds Diploma in Patisserie (8065-03)

Also known as a Line Cook.  He or she will oversee one section of the kitchen and preparation of one particular type of food.  Generally starting at cold kitchen and progressing to sautéing, grilling or frying.  The Chef de Partie becomes a specialist in one section, then moves on to another, eventually training in all areas of the kitchen

Job Description and responsibilities:

  • To prepare, assemble and cook dishes to a strict deadline schedule
  • To manage certain sections of the kitchen such as sauces, fish or pastries
  • To be responsible for the preparation and cooking of good quality food
  • To train and develop new trainee chefs (commis chefs)
  • To maintain overall order and cleanliness in the kitchen
  • To assist in menu development.
  • To be able to converse with the guests and clients

Sous Chefs and Executive Sous Chef: (4 – 8 years)

If you have a desire to work up the ranks and become a Sous Chef, the Ideal qualification would be an NZQA Level 5 or City & Guild Advanced Diploma in Cookery & Supervision (8065-04)

The Sous Chef is the assistant to the Head Chef or Executive Chef and is the second in command in the kitchen. 

He or she helps to run the kitchen, plans menus, creating schedules, overseeing ordering for the kitchen and manages customer relations.   A Sous Chef is required to be skilled in all aspects of food preparation and is expected to fill in for the Executive Chef when required to do so or take over from any of the Chef de Partie.

Job Description and Responsibilities:

  • To oversee the day-to-day running of the kitchen at ground level
  • To manage the kitchen inventory and order stock as necessary
  • To train and develop junior chefs
  • To implement (and ensure compliance of) hygiene and cleanliness policies and procedures
  • To prepare and plate dishes when required
  • To provide a significant input into menu development

Executive Chef: (9 – 10 years)

The Executive Chef is in charge of the entire kitchen, planning and executing menus, hiring and supervising staff, setting the budget, costing, quality control, talking to the media and more.  The Executive Chef sets the tone for the restaurant and works closely with the restaurant’s general manager and creates the vision for the restaurant.

The path to becoming a Head/Executive Chef is all about gaining experience and honing skills.  Many head chefs have started in the kitchen as a dishwasher and have moved their way up the ranks from there.  Every chefs journey is as individual as the chef and every step influences his or her personal style and ultimate success.

Job Description and Responsibilities:

  • To supervise, train and manage kitchen personnel
  • To oversees the quality and effectiveness of the menu and develop the overall creative vision and direction of the cuisine
  • To ensure all dishes are cooked and prepared to a high standard
  • To plan expenses, operating costs and other best practice guidelines for food storage and preparation
  • To have good managerial and marketing skills.
  • To have the ability to effectively communicate with customers.

Get the Qualifications

Tt is entirely possible to obtain a position as a food preparation assistant or similar and work your way up from there within a kitchen and showing willingness, commitment and enthusiasm is essential.  However, attending a culinary programme we believe is an essential part of a chef’s training and having a NZQA or City and Guild qualification will expose all students to a wider range of cooking techniques and ingredients which will give them a broader skillset. 

NZQA LEVEL 4:

This NZ Certificate in Cookery is for students who wish to progress from basic to complex food preparation skills, techniques and knowledge.   This programme will enable students to learn in-depth culinary techniques in areas that include cold food preparation, hot desserts and pastry dishes.

NZQA LEVEL 5:

This NZ Diploma in Cooker is for students who wish to develop their existing skills and knowledge in advanced culinary practice.  This programme aims to develop the learner’s abilities in researching, planning, developing, implementing and analysing of food preparation, cooking and presentation and also allows graduates to obtain management skills in a commercial kitchen

CITY AND GUILD DIPLOMA IN FOOD PREPARATION & CULINARY ARTS (8065-02)

A City and Guilds qualification could be your passport to travel and work globally and in this programme, you will learn the skills you need to gain confidence and knowledge in the world of culinary.

CITY AND GUILD DIPLOMA IN PATISSERIE (8065-03)

A City and Guilds qualification could be your passport to travel and work globally and in this programme, you will learn the skills you need to gain confidence and knowledge in the techniques of patisserie and baking.

CITY & GUILD ADVANCED DIPLOMA IN COOKER & SUPERVISION (8065-04)

A City and Guilds qualification could be your passport to travel and work globally and this qualification will equip you with the skills and knowledge required to further your chef career and formalize your knowledge and experience in staff training, management in food preparation, menu planning and costings and supervise food production.

Salary Prospects

Salaries are most definitely defined by your level of seniority in the kitchen, however there are other factors that play a part.  The region you choose to work in and the prestige of the restaurant, as  examples and if you were to work at a Michelin star restaurant in Auckland or London, it stands to reason that the salaries would be higher and more significant than if you were working in a small town.

Develop Your Career

Every person who enters the culinary world has different career aspirations and goals.  Experience, knowledge and confidence can be gained in a number of ways, either by progressing to senior positions within one kitchen or by working across a number of kitchens always ensuring that the next move is to a more prestigious restaurant and under different.  For those that are particularly ambitious, armed with a City and Guilds qualification, you can also seek to work in kitchens abroad to expand your skillset; as an example, many chefs spend time working in Italian or French restaurants to learn different techniques and recipes that can be taken back home.

There are other career paths to consider other than working in a commercial kitchen that are exciting and challenging to be enjoyed as a chef.  

Qualified Chef Careers:

  • Hotel Groups 3 – 5*
  • Cruise Ships
  • Casino and Gaming
  • Airline Catering
  • Mining and Industrial Catering
  • Game Ranches and Wildlife Parks
  • Restaurant Chains and Franchises
  • Pub Chains and Franchises
  • Production Facilities
  • Hospitality and Event Caterers
  • Corporate Catering Companies
  • Health Care Industry
  • Aged Home Facilities
  • Cafes
  • Chef Instructor
  • Chef Assessor

Experienced Chef Careers:

  • Chef to a President
  • Chef to an Ambassador
  • Private Celebrity Chef
  • Private Luxury Yacht Chef
  • Film Crew and Actor Chef
  • Culinary Judge
  • Musician Chef
  • Food Technologist – Dietetics
  • Food Stylist
  • Food Alchemist
  • Molecular Gastronomist
  • Product development
  • Food Blogger
  • Restaurant Critic

While the hours may be relatively unsociable and the conditions humid and stressful, cooking is like love, it should be entered into with complete abandon, or not at all.