Like it or not, the French culinary brigade system is the established hierarchy when it comes to cheffing positions, and, to a large extent, it serves a functional purpose of making sure that every successful kitchen is steered with consistency and efficiency.
It’s not uncommon to enter the industry without qualifications, and often, experience. The kind of mentorship you receive throughout your career will largely determine the weight of your CV. The higher you climb up the ladder, the harder it becomes to find and get selected for the coveted positions of executive chef, head chef and sous chef. So, if you’re keen to pass through the ranks, you need to set your sights on a clear goal and be prepared to put in the time, effort and passion into developing yourself professionally.
Once you become a line chef, or chef de partie, you may find yourself at risk of being siloed in your current post if you don’t start taking a vested interest in your progression.
But where do you start?
From a line chef/chef de partie
This role usually means you operate a specific section of the kitchen. For example:
• Vegetable prep
You’re responsible for your station, and you may or may not have someone lower ranking assisting you. The problem here is, you may get typecast as a one-trick pony. So, how do you use the experience gained in this role in propelling you towards a sous chef position?
At this point in your career, you need to show that you are versatile, open to learning, flexible and capable of leading. Seize every training opportunity offered by the restaurant, maintain good, open channels of communication between you and your colleagues and take an interest in the operational side of the kitchen.
One to two years in this role is enough to gain relevant experience, from that point on, you should probably keep your ear to the ground for new opportunities.
Becoming a sous chef
A sous chef is usually the second in command, and the responsibilities will overlap with that of a head chef.
To get this title, you have to have to have acquired a broad experience in a variety of kitchens. You also need excellent communication skills as you will have to relay instructions to the rest of the team, train new staff and liaise with suppliers and business owners when the head chef is unavailable.
Becoming a head chef or executive chef
The responsibilities of these roles are mostly similar, and whether they are applied as separate positions really depends on the size and nature of the establishment.
In this role, you’ll be able to exercise more creative control over the menu and the ingredients used in the dishes. You’ll also be responsible for implementing hygiene protocols, hiring staff, rotating shifts and overseeing the finances and overall direction of the restaurant as a business.
How to develop your career path
It doesn’t really matter where you currently sit in the culinary hierarchy. Every day that you come into the kitchen is an opportunity for you to learn, hone your skills, network with other professionals and share your ideas. A focused approach will help you to get to your desired destination faster.
Here are some quick tips:
- Develop strong people management skills
- Have strong leadership skills
- Be a team player
- Create industry related content
- Seek out mentors
- Get qualifications and certifications
The road to a head chef role isn’t always straight forward and you may spend longer in some positions than others, but as long as you are actively seeking to improve yourself, make new contacts and to leave a positive impression on everyone you encounter professionally, you will be much better positioned for new opportunities.