Becoming a head chef or a chef de cuisine is a dream job for many people who love working with food. However, working in a top Michelin-starred restaurant in London is highly competitive and demands long hours and extensive training. In 2020, there were thousands of head chef jobs in the UK, although this is likely to be less owing to the effect of the pandemic. Nonetheless, employment for head chefs is projected to increase by 25% over the next decade, which is much faster than many other occupations.
Working as a head chef is a varied and rewarding career. A skilled chef can easily find work at restaurants, residential care homes, boarding schools, state schools, hospitals, prisons, private homes, pubs, factories and more. In addition, chefs can work on cruise ships and holiday resorts. Although the settings can differ, the working environments of head chefs are often very similar.
How much does a head chef earn in London compared to the rest of the UK?
Are you interested in pursuing a career as a head chef? Then, understanding how much you are likely to earn is very important.
In May 2020, the average annual salary for a head chef was £32,400 gross. However, a head chef’s salary can vary enormously according to their experience and the location of the position. An entry-level head chef working in a hospital kitchen, for example, will earn less than a late-career head chef in a five-star London hotel restaurant.
Most chefs are paid for their work on an hourly basis, although many vacancies are advertised with an annual salary. £13.50 per hour is a typical rate for a head chef working in a gastropub in London, where salaries are higher. In common with the nation’s economy as a whole, head chef wages are higher in the southeast and lower in the north, although there are exceptions to the rule. Short-term accommodation is often included as part of an employment package for a role in a hotel, which can be worth a significant amount of money.
A starting head chef salary outside the capital ranges between £17,000 and £19,000 per annum, with an experienced head chef earning up to £30,000 per year. Head Chef Gastro Pub average salary is £27K/year.
Experienced chefs at the peak of their career can earn £70,000 per year or more, and of course, celebrity chefs with TV careers can command even higher salaries.
What are the working conditions like?
High pressured multi-tasking
Anyone who has watched ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ or similar will understand that being a head chef is a high-pressured role. Chefs are under pressure to prepare high-quality food quickly and manage other staff members in a hot and often crowded kitchen. Chefs also need to keep to safety and sanitation procedures as well as plan menus and manage budgets. During hectic times, chefs need to juggle several orders simultaneously whilst preparing delicious meals for each customer.
Being a head chef is not for the faint-hearted. Chefs have to stay on their feet for many hours. They have to constantly lift heavy objects, such as large saucepans and trays, and are routinely exposed to boiling liquids, hot grills and ovens. As a result, it is quite a risky profession in terms of minor injuries – chefs may regularly incur burns, grazes, trips and falls.
Excellent communication skills
A head chef works closely with the rest of the kitchen team each day. They have to be able to communicate efficiently and effectively with other staff members. The kitchen needs to work like a well-oiled machine, which is more likely when people get on with each other. Plus, a head chef working at a fine-dining establishment may occasionally be required to interact with diners.
What exactly does a week in the life of a head chef look like? You’ll generally have to work shifts which require good time management and can impede on a lively social life, not to mention being quite family-unfriendly in terms of childcare.
However, although many chefs (such as those in school canteens) work conventional hours, many do not. Chefs in fine-dining restaurants usually start work before the restaurant opens and leave long after service closing. Don’t forget; chefs are often required to work during holidays and bank holiday weekends too.
Most successful chefs are passionate about food, and these aspects of the job are not enough to stand in their way.
A typical working week might include early starts and late nights, and you’ll definitely have to work weekends at some point.
It isn’t the most straightforward job in the world, but it can be exceptionally rewarding for those who have a true passion for food. But, as the saying goes, ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!’ – head chefs have to put up with hot working conditions.
As well as working in the kitchen, delegating jobs and prepping food, you’ll have to complete admin and office-based tasks from time to time. For example, you’ll need to plan menus and set restaurant budgets. However, the majority of the time will be spent working in a high-pressured setting. Are you ready for the challenge, as it isn’t going to be an easy ride?