what is a chef?

A chef is a professional who oversees food preparation. You use your culinary skills to manage a kitchen and ensure restaurant customers receive the best services. Unlike other kitchen employees, a chef is involved in cooking and kitchen management. That means you plan menus, research new dishes for the restaurant and experiment with different ingredients to provide a unique experience for visitors.

As a chef, you require impressive culinary skills and food preparation expertise to coordinate work activities in the kitchen. Since you are responsible for both flavour and presentation, you need creativity to ensure the dishes taste great and look appetising. Aside from cooking preparation and coordinating kitchen staff, you also perform administrative duties like ordering ingredients, sourcing vendors and managing food stock. You work with the restaurant manager to set food prices and determine the cost of the dishes.

Your duties differ depending on the size of the establishment. When you work in a large high-end restaurant, you may take up a managerial role and only cook when devising new dishes for the menu. In less formal establishments, a chef's duties are managing food stock, cooking and keeping the kitchen clean and tidy.

Chefs work in any establishment that prepares food, from snack bars to hotels, cafes, restaurants, cruise ships and companies offering catering services.

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average salary of a chef

The hourly rate of an entry level chef is $23 - $25 per hour, while experienced chefs can earn between $29 - $38 per hour. Your hourly rate or salary depends on your responsibilities and rank in the company you work for. 

how to increase your salary as a chef

A chef's remuneration package depends on various factors, including responsibilities, work experience and company size. For instance, head chefs earn more since they take up additional responsibilities like inventing new dishes and ordering inventory. Chef de Parties are paid less as they are junior kitchen staff whose role is to cook and serve dishes based on the recipes provided.

When you have extensive experience and culinary mastery, you can negotiate a better remuneration package due to the skills you bring to the table. Working for large restaurants can be rewarding as they have the resources to pay better salaries than snack bars and less formal establishments.

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types of chefs

Some of the types of chefs include:

  • executive chefs: You manage all the kitchen activities as an executive chef. While you don't cook the meals, you taste the dishes before they are served to customers. You also review the plate presentation and develop new menu items.
  • butcher chefs: as a butcher chef, you prepare the meat before it moves to different workstations. You prepare various meat types and cuts based on the menu to ensure the chefs have well-prepared meat for customer orders.
  • pastry chefs: as a pastry chef, you prepare baked goods and desserts. Your job is to mix the batters, prepare dough for various pastries and desserts, and ensure customers receive their desserts on time.
  • Chef de Partie chefs: as a commis chef, you are a junior-level worker who assists in meal preparation. Your job is to shadow chefs and assist at various workstations. You prepare ingredients and clean the work areas.
chef preparing food
chef preparing food

working as a chef

Working as a chef is an exciting and fast-paced job that involves numerous responsibilities. Read on for details on the specific tasks, work schedules and career prospects involved in the role.


education and skills

While chefs don't require formal education, you may require some training to improve your culinary skills and prepare for managerial roles. These include:

  • two to three year, on-the-job apprenticeship, including study towards a New Zealand Certificate in Hospitality (Cookery) (Level 4)
  • one year, full-time New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 3)
  • one year, full-time New Zealand Certificate in Hospitality (Cookery) (Level 4).

When you complete your apprenticeship, you should develop your cooking skills by working in entry-level positions. 

chef skills and competencies

Some of the skills and competencies of a chef include:

  • organisation skills: you should be organised to plan workflows in the kitchen and ensure food is prepared promptly. Lack of organisation can lead to mixing up orders or menu items and presenting the wrong dishes to customers.
  • multitasking skills: you cook a range of food items on the menu and perform other tasks. Multitasking skills help you coordinate the various elements of food preparation.
  • creativity: you rely on creativity to develop a unique menu and create impressive food presentations. You are also in charge of the décor, seating arrangements and tableware to enhance the dining experience.

FAQs about working as a chef

Here are the most asked questions about working as a chef:

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