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Chef de Partie jobs
What's it really like?
Dave Bagely was a Chef de Partie before getting promotion to Head Chef. He gives us the inside story.
"I started in the food industry at the age of 13, working in a butchers' shop and after I left school I went to college to train as a chef. I got my first job in a restaurant two weeks after starting college and completed a City & Guilds qualification at the same time. My first chef job was in a 60-seater a la carte restaurant which wasn't big enough to need a Chef de Partie but after I had gained some good experience I moved to a bigger team in London and became a Chef de Partie. Being a Chef de Partie predominantly involved overseeing the section I was responsible for. This included food preparation, cooking and serving. I also had responsibility for stock control and the development of menus. I did some cooking alongside the management tasks."
"I enjoyed almost everything about the job, particularly the cooking and supporting other chefs. I didn't like the stock control though; very few chefs enjoy that part of the job. Being a Chef de Partie is hard work and the hours are unsociable but I would say being able to cook every day makes up for the hours. To anyone thinking of becoming a Chef de Partie I would emphasise that there is no training that really makes you a chef; it comes from the inside. You have to love food and enjoy the challenge of making something out of nothing."
Chef de Partie
Responsible for running one particular area of the kitchen at any given time, the Chef de Partie ranks below the Sous Chef in the kitchen hierarchy. The Chef de Partie is expected to cook and to ensure that food goes out during a service. They are assisted by the Commis Chef who in turn learns the basics of cooking from the Chef de Partie.
As part of the team, the Chef de Partie is responsible for cooking, preparing and presenting various dishes with the assistance of Commis or Assistant Chefs (although this depends on the structure and size of the kitchen) In larger kitchens there may be more than one Chef de Partie working at each station. In this case, the Chef de Partie is known as a line cook and the chefs are divided into a hierarchy within the station and named ‘First Cook,’ ‘Second Cook’ etc. At the beginning of a shift, the Chef de Partie is allocated a particular section of the kitchen for which they will have responsibility, for the duration of the serving. The kitchen is split into the following sections known as a brigade system:
A Chef de Partie will usually start at around £15,000 with the potential to progress to £20,000 (depending on the size of the kitchen)
As well as having specific responsibility for preparing and cooking food in a particular section of the kitchen, the Chef de Partie will also assist the Sous Chef and Head Chef, with the development of new menus and dishes. Additionally, the Chef de Partie is expected to adhere to food health and safety guidelines and to ensure that any Aides or Commis Chefs working below them also meet the required food hygiene standards.
There are no specific qualifications required to get started as a Chef de Partie but a certificate in Basic Food Hygiene is very important for anyone handling food. GCSEs in Maths, English and in languages (especially if working in a kitchen abroad) are not essential but are widely regarded as useful qualifications to have. Additionally, a specific food or hospitality qualification will give aspiring chefs a head start and allow them to progress to Chef de Partie more quickly than those without a qualification. The most suitable qualifications for potential Chef de Parties are:
A kitchen is a busy and demanding environment to work in and it is essential that chefs are able to keep a cool head in stressful situations. Organisation is another must as a Chef de Partie is responsible for getting a large amount of food out in a relatively short space of time and needs to be able to structure and prioritise tasks. As a Chef de Partie is usually responsible for one or more Commis chef, delegation skills are essential as is the ability to work well as a member of a team.
A Chef de Partie is required to work long hours within hot, stressful and physically demanding conditions. Most Chef de Parties are required to work from around 5.30 - 11pm or later and are then back in work at 9am to prepare and cook for a lunchtime serving, so as well as being long the hours tend to be quite unsociable. There is little time for a break during a shift and, as chefs are on their feet almost all of the time, they need to have good stamina to cope with the physical and emotional demands of the job.
To become a Chef de Partie it is necessary to have experience in a kitchen, learning the basics from fully trained chefs. Most chefs begin as an Aide, a trainee chef who has never had any experience of a professional kitchen. Before starting as an Aide it may be necessary to complete a period of voluntary experience in a kitchen so potential employers can see that a candidate will be serious and committed to the job. After working as an Aide for a period of time, chefs then progress to a Commis Chef where they gain vital experience of food preparation and basic cooking techniques. Once a chef has had substantial experience as a Commis Chef they may progress to a Chef de Partie.
All medium-large hotels, restaurants and gastropubs employ Chef de Parties.
There is plenty of potential for career progression within the food industry and there are always jobs available, providing chefs are willing to be flexible. The step above a Chef de Partie is a Sous Chef (the Head Chef’s right-hand man) and working as a Chef de Partie often offers the opportunity to get experience of the Sous Chef role, allowing them to fill in when the Sous Chef is off absent. This enables those wanting to progress in the industry to develop their potential for promotion, allowing the Chef de Partie to progress ‘up the ladder’ relatively quickly.