What's it really like?
Daniel Davies was a chef in the British Army Royal Logistics Corp and Class 1 Chefs for 9 years. Here is what he has to say about the job:Daniel, why did you decide to become an armed forces chef? Well, I was already working as a chef but I didn't find the role I was in particularly fulfilling. I found that I wanted to travel and meet new people and there was no room for that kind of expansion in the position I was in. I saw that chefs in the British Army traveled a lot and got the chance to experience cooking in challenging situations and I decided I wanted to give it a go.
What was a typical day for you like?
It always consisted of early starts with lots of work to do first thing. When you have to prepare a morning meal for that many soldiers with at least 5 options, the work has to begin at the crack of dawn! Throughout the day, we would have to clean up from each meal and then we'd get some free time to do as we pleased. But we would always have to be back in the kitchen before the next meal to get things cooking again and then to clear away after. When I wasn't doing these things, we'd work together as a team to try and come up with a creative menu and sort out storage and stocks.
What did you like about being a chef in the British Army? I enjoyed the fact that we got to travel a lot. It gave me the chance to do some really amazing stuff like bungee jumping in New Zealand, ice climbing in Canada, training to be a ski instructor in Germany and diving in Cyprus. In terms of cooking, I got to work at one of Jamie Oliver's 15 restaurants and to cook for Prince William and Prince Harry. The opportunities I was given were far superior to most other jobs.
What did you dislike about the job or find particularly challenging?
It is hard work and you are a solider first so unfortunately I have seen some horrible things and had to do things that I will have to live with forever. Secondly, there are a lot of people in the Army, from all different backgrounds so it is impossible to get on with everyone you meet, but because of the line of work you're in, you may rely on them one day to save your life. Because of this, you have to be prepared to be civilised, professional and trusting, even if they wouldn't normally be your friend outside the Army.
What skills would you say a chef in the armed forces needs?
The best suited people are people who don't worry too much about small things. You also have to be prepared for a challenge and not to quit at the first hurdle.
Lastly, what inside advice would you give someone wanting to become an armed forces chef?
It's a bunch of cliches really but work hard and play hard, keep your head down but your chin up and if you get lemons, make lemonade. I know it all sounds corny but some days are good and some days are bad so you just have to make the best of your lot.
Armed Forces Chef
Also known as...
- Armed forces cook
- Assistant Chef
An armed forces chef is responsible for planning and preparing three meals a day for their squadron.
Armed forces chefs are trained to prepare and cook highly nutritious meals, three times a day for their squadron. The number of people that chefs are required to cook for, depends on which military force and working environment they are in - Royal Navy chefs aboard a ship may have to serve meals for up to 900 people. In some cases, the role may require chefs to prepare meals for royalty. The job involves monitoring the levels of food, organising storage, ordering new supplies, planning meal patterns, preparation and cooking, and serving meals.
Armed forces chefs will work in a team in order to cater for the high number of soldiers that need feeding. The cooking crew are also trained in fire fighting, first aid and providing humanitarian relief to civilians if required.
The working environment is largely dependent on the combat scenario. Armed forces chefs can be working in a well equipped kitchen aboard a ship or in military bases, or could be out in combat zones, cooking in make-shift tented kitchens with food rations. The job requires a great deal of travel and working hours vary considerably depending on shift patterns.
Armed forces chefs enter the service earning around £14,000 a year (exact figures vary depending on the force). After the 26 week training programme is completed, the salary rises to between £17,000 and £18,000 per annum. Within the same ranking, with between 2 and 5 years’ experience, the salary can increase up to £28,500 per annum.
The salary increases as chefs move up the ranks within their force, taking on more responsibility. By moving up one rank, chefs can earn up to £33,100 a year.
Other allowances are paid by the armed forces. Between £6.89 and £28.24 a day is awarded for longer periods of separation from families and their base.
Armed forces chefs are responsible for the nutrition of a large number of soldiers and other important people, meaning they have a whole host of tasks over and above cooking. Their responsibilities can include:
- Planning weekly meals, basing them on nutrition levels to ensure every person is getting their daily recommendations of nutritious products – there needs to be five or six choices taking into account allergies, vegetarians, vegans, religious restrictions and gluten/lactose intolerance.
- Planning the ingredients needed to make their weekly menu
- Checking supply levels of ingredients and managing the storage of each of these items
- Dating and recording ‘use by’ dates on food
- Putting together orders of food needed and ordering these supplies
- Preparing and cooking three meals a day
- Cleaning and maintaining all equipment used in the cooking process
- Fighting fires in kitchen areas and implementing health and safety measures to prevent such accidents
- Carrying out first aid on any physical injuries incurred in the kitchen environment
- Preparing and providing aid to civilians when required
Armed forces chefs must have at least 2 GCSEs of grade G or above in English and Maths. In addition, previous college courses and training in catering are always a bonus when applying for the job.
All training and qualifications are supplied by the military and chefs will earn a Level 2 City and Guilds NVQ in Food Preparation and Cooking and a Level 3 in Kitchen Supervision after some experience in the role. Armed forces chefs will also receive training to gain food hygiene qualifications which are applicable to all food preparation jobs in the UK, even those outside the armed forces. Some armed forces chefs go on to complete an apprenticeship in Hospitality.
Armed forces chefs work in an extremely busy environment and have to be prepared to produce food for large numbers of people in any type of condition. With this in mind, the military look for certain skills in a candidate that will prove useful as an armed forces chef. These skills include:
- Excellent level of team work
- Organisational skills and personal management of time
- The ability to work under pressure and still produce effective results
- Creative thinking to produce a variety of meals under all types of conditions
- Being motivated and prepared for a challenge
- Being interested in food and catering
- An understanding of the importance of health and safety in a kitchen
- Ability to take direction and follow instructions carefully
- Being able to record data efficiently and keep up to date records of stock that is needed and the ‘use by’ dates of this stock
- Basic level of numeracy to calculate costs and stock levels
The working environment for an armed forces chef can be extremely varied. Firstly, the force that a chef is employed in, to a certain extent, will determine their environment. Chefs employed in the Royal Navy are obviously much more likely to work on ships than those employed by the Royal Air Force.
When not on tour or in combat, armed forces chefs are required to produce meals in their military base. In this instance, chefs are provided with a fully functioning kitchen. On other occasions, on tour or in combat, armed forces chefs can be required to cook under any conditions. They may have to cook for an entire ship or submarine, in a tented base camp in a combat zone, in the jungle on an overnight stop or half way up a mountain.
Armed forces chefs may not always have all the necessary equipment or supplies to cook the best meals they can. Often they will be required to cook meals for their team using only ration packs and small pots and pans that can be carried within rucksacks supplied by the armed forces.
The job comes with the regular hazards of working within the armed forces. Although there is less risk of injury or fatality than fighting on the frontline or in the bomb disposal unit, armed forces chefs are still exposed to combat zones and can be vulnerable to flying ammunition and bombings.
The working hours for an armed forces chef are usually on rotated shifts throughout the week.
No experience is necessary to be an armed forces chef as candidates can join straight from school at the age of 16. All training that chefs will need is given in the first training programmes and from then on, qualifications can be gained from extra training.
However, previous kitchen or chef experience or training is favourable and will be helpful when attempting to create menus and prepare meals quickly.
In order to progress to the next level, experience is key in determining whether an armed forces chef is ready to lead a team and take on the role of a higher rank.
- British Army
- Royal Navy
- Royal Air Force
Like every role in the armed forces, chefs are subject to rankings which is the clear career path for people wishing to progress in the military.
Ranks are awarded on experience, merit and leadership ability. In order to progress to a higher rank, chefs need to display all these attributes and be prepared to take on extra training and gain further qualifications.