Where can chefs work? The answer to this question may appear obvious at first, after all chefs are found in kitchens slaving away over hot stoves aren’t they?
In fact, the answer is not as simple as it first appears; Whilst chefs will be found in kitchens, the type and location of the kitchen can vary dramatically!
As a chef we can work in a wide range of places such as
- Cruise ships
- Private yachts
- Ski chalets
- Catering vehicles.
- These are just a few examples, and there are many other surprising options.
Readers can see from the snippet above that the idea of a chef in a hot restaurant kitchen, whilst accurate for many, is far from the only option available to those pursing a catering career. (How a restaurant kitchen operates)
In this article we shall take a look at the multitude of different places a chef can work. Readers will then gain some new inspiration on the direction their own catering career can take!
We’ll break down the options below with a few tips thrown in to help you land the job of your dreams!
What’s It Like To Be A Chef In A Restaurant?
The majority of chefs will choose to work in restaurant kitchens due to the predictable nature of the environment.
As chefs, when we work in a restaurant we get comfortable to our surroundings and can ‘make ourselves at home’ in the kitchen. This can be a big perk as we typically will spend more time in this kitchen than our own homes!
As the menu changes and adapts the nature of the job changes, this way the role is always kept fresh and challenging.
Constant menu changes mean that going to the same work venue everyday is not going to tiresome and lessen the risk of a chef getting itchy feet and moving on.
If the kitchen is in a location that is perfect for the chef (perhaps walking distance from our home, in a city we love) we can often be tempted to stay there long term and climb the kitchen hierarchy without moving around.
Restaurants require chefs that are calm under pressure and can work well within larger teams. Being able to demonstrate any kind of kitchen experience (even as a pot washer) is a great foot in the door.
What’s It Like To Be A Chef In A Hotel?
The role of chef working in a hotel is similar in a lot of ways to working in a stand alone restaurant but with a few notable exceptions.
Hotel kitchens will have to cater for breakfast guests as well.
Kitchen brigades in hotels will often include specific breakfast chefs, or the regular chefs who have to take a turn on the breakfast rota. These early mornings can suit some people well, but be a nightmare for others.
Another notable characteristic of hotel work is the amount of functions they can accommodate. Large hotels in particular will have a specific team of chefs set up to handle these functions (wedding parties, birthday party bookings etc)
Chefs on the function team will find themselves having a more predictable working environment. The number of guests are set well in advance as is the menu options for each guest.
With practice and a well set up kitchen, catering for functions can become a more relaxed way for chefs to work, compared with the unpredicted chaos that can sometimes come from the main restaurant bookings that evening.
Organisational and time-keeping abilities are vital in this role. If a wedding party is sat for their meal, it must go out on time. Prior preparation is the secret to a smooth and stress free service.
What’s It Like To Be A Chef In A Sports venue?
For chefs that enjoy catering for functions and more favourable working hours, sports venues can be a great place to work.
If we take a football stadium for example, these will be very busy on match day, but they also caterer to corporate functions throughout the week.
The working conditions are similar to the function chefs who work in hotels. The guest numbers are known well in advance and the menu options are usually limited.
Lots of the dishes are prepared well in advance to cater for the speed required to make sure everyone gets their meals served at the same time. Service time is a question of ‘all hands on deck’ to get the meals plated as quickly as possible.
The more favourable hours come in from the fact that sports venues are often busiest around lunchtime and regular business hours.
Picture a typical Saturday kick off at 3pm. The guests will eat lunch before the game at around 1pm, before watching the match and heading home afterwards at around 5pm.
Whilst some chefs remain in the evening to take care of any evening guests, a large majority are able to go home and enjoy their evenings.
Straight shifts are more normal in these venues compared with the spilt shifts we typically see in restaurants and hotels.
To secure a job in one of these venues can require facing stiff competition. We need to highlight that we are experienced at producing a large volume of dishes, in a short space of time, without sacrificing quality!
What’s It Like To Be A Chef In A Ski Chalet?
Ski chalets can be a great place for more adventurous chefs to work. Many chalets will employ a small handful of staff to cook and care for the guests during their stay.
It’s important if we are considering this option that we are an experienced and capable chef that can ‘stand on our own two feet’ For example, a typical chalet that has 12 guests, will employ just one chef.
This one chef must be confident in their own ability as they will be responsible for producing the breakfast, afternoon snack and dinner, for all the guests 6 days per week.
The budget given to these chefs by the holiday booking companies are notoriously low. If we become a chalet chef we must have imagination to produce good hearty meals at relatively low costs.
The nature of dishes being served will vary depending on the level of luxury of the chalet. Very luxurious (and therefor very expensive) chalets will have a high level of cuisine. However, the norm for most venues is good wholesome food such as lasagnas, pies etc.
As mentioned, a chef is required to work six days a week, and on their one night off, the guests are expected to make their own dining arrangements elsewhere. Chefs who are reliable are an absolute must.
For the right type of person this can be an amazing cooking experience. When not working, the slopes are free to enjoy as we see fit, and the atmosphere among the many season workers is legendary.
Many younger chefs who could never afford a ski trip find cooking a great way to broaden their horizons!
Chalet companies that employ chefs are on the look out for confident and reliable people that can commit to working an entire season.
If applying for a job we need to demonstrate that we are a confident cooking on our own, can manage our individual work load and that we are consistent – ie not ringing in sick due to hangovers!
What’s It Like To Be A Chef On A Cruise Ship?
Chefs that are attracted to earning large amounts of money may find that working on a cruise ship provides the opportunities they have been looking for!
Cruise ships are huge venues with multiple restaurants, serving food 24 hours a day. As readers can imagine the service structure built within these ships is vast.
It takes a large catering team to not only cook for all these guests but to also ensure the supplies are fully stocked (it’s not like we can nip to the shop for a forgotten lemon!)
The menus are planned months in advance and all the inventory is carefully accounted for. A chef working in this environment will only be concerned with producing the required dishes and following the direction of the more experienced senior chefs.
As the catering requirements on these floating cities are so vast, the hours and workload that is expected of the chefs is also huge.
Stories of chefs working months without a whole day off are common, and the long working hours begin at breakfast time and finish late into the night.
So why do some chefs choose to put themselves through such intense work?
The opportunity to travel and see the world is a factor to many, although it must be said that the amount of a specific country a chef gets to actually see when not working is limited.
One of the biggest draws, as eluded to earlier, is the wages that a chef on cruise ship can earn.
Working so many hours and days in a row means that the wages can significantly add up over the course of a trip. Add to that the free, or heavily subsidised food and accommodation whilst on the ship, and we can see that over a few month period we can earn high sums of money with little to no expenses.
Income tax also plays a large role. I am by no means a tax expert so anyone considering this option should do their own research, but as the ship is floating between countries the tax payable on the wages can be considerably less than on a wage earned in the regular way at home.
Chefs often come back from these long trips to enjoy a month or so off before setting off again on another voyage.
For some, being a cruise ship chef is an ideal lifestyle providing the chance to travel whilst earning good money. Other chefs find this lifestyle unbearable. It really comes down to our personality and the opportunities available where we live.
Getting a job on a cruise ship can be difficult as the competition is fierce. It is also unfortunately the case that many companies require chefs to have experience working on ships already (the classic; can’t get a job without the experience loop)
If we can demonstrate a dependable and outgoing nature, (perhaps we have worked a ski chalet season as mentioned earlier) we have a better chance at securing a chef job on a cruise ship.
What’s It Like To Be A Chef On A Private yacht?
Sticking with the theme of water, chefs that are turned away form the mass cooking approach of cruise ships may find they are better suited to life as a chef on a yacht.
If sailing around the Mediterranean, working as part of a small close knit team preparing superb cuisine sounds like your cup of tea then this maybe being a private taught chef is the role for you.
I’m sure this sounds like a dream to most readers, so what’s the catch?
The catch is the unpredictable nature of the job. Everywhere the yacht goes you have to go, as well as working any hours that are required.
If the owner of the yacht decides they want to sail away for a few weeks then any plans you as the chef have made will have to be put on hold, you are obviously required to go along as well.
There is little job security present in these roles. Yacht owners can change crew members whenever they like. As a boat is so private and personal if the owner decides that they don’t like the way we present ourselves they are perfectly entitled to terminate our contract.
Typically chefs will work via yacht recruitment companies who will place us within teams. However, this type of work is a very close knit group and breaking in without previous experience or a recommendation can be tough.
Any sailing or adventure experience we can gain to help us demonstrate we are serious is vital. An ability to get along with people in a small team is also essential, so an outgoing and adaptable personality is a prerequisite for this type of role.
What’s It Like To Be A Chef In A Catering Van?
For those chefs who prefer to keep their feet on dry land, a caring vehicle may be a great option.
A catering vehicle is a great way to scratch the travel itch, whilst also having control over our surroundings.
Many chefs choose to start their own catering van businesses, as the overhead costs are relatively low when compared with having to take the plunge to start our own restaurant.
These type of catering vans can provide a great lifestyle business. Perhaps a chef is feeling burnt out from the stresses and hours of a regular catering career and want to spend more time with their partner.
By buying a business such as this they can dictate their own path easier. The chef and their partner may decide to embark on an adventure together. We often see romantic couples who decide to set up a catering van to give themselves more time together.
A catering vehicle can also lead to a more permanent restaurant. Many high quality restaurants start of life in this way.
For example, a bbq meat van may discover that they are incredibly popular in the local area. When they expand the business and open a restaurant, their name is already recognised and they have a list of existing customers willing to fill their restaurant from day one.
We don’t often see jobs advertised for working on catering vehicles, except for part time positions to help on busy days or weekend events. Typically a chef will own the vehicle and it is their own attempt at a food service business.
The catering vans that typically do well, and succeed, are the ones who specialise in unique offerings. Common examples of successful vans I can think of are, Mac and cheese, boa bun and the classic bbq meat van.
Whilst there is still a place for the classic fish and chips or burger and chips van, customers are getting more and more adventurous with the type of cuisine they enjoy. We are typically seeing a trend where customers are willing to pay higher prices for quality dishes and local produce.
To Sum Up
There are other options available that we haven’t had time to cover, such as working in a restaurant but abroad! However, I feel that list will provide readers with a brief overview of options to get the imagination flowing.
One of the great advantages of being a chef is the ability to take our skills and experiences to many different locations.
As we progress our careers, we can select work venues which are more suited to our current stage of life. We may start off sailing the world but decide to settle down to work at a local restaurant as we get older and have children etc.
The options really are vast. By being conscientious and establishing a good reputation among our peers we will find the great jobs come to us that little bit easier.