How to become a chef: Isabel's story

Meet Isabel. She's 20 and grew up in Norfolk. Find how she got her job as chef de partie at St Petroc's Bistro, which is owned by Rick Stein and Jill Stein and located in Padstow, Cornwall. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

Isabel in the kitchen at work.
"You really have learn how to prioritise your work."

What is a typical day in your job?

I'm a chef de partie, which means I'm responsible for a particular section of the kitchen, but I also do some office work: it's not just cooking. I'm learning about the cost of each dish we prepare and how the dishes are priced. I'm now also teaching other chefs which I love!

I'm a chef in a restaurant kitchen. When I arrive in the morning, the chef from the night before will have left me a list of what needs to be done before our lunch service. This usually involves preparing vegetables, meat and fish so it's ready for us to cook when guests arrive.

What skills do you use as a chef?

I use my knife skills and cooking skills every day. I also use organisation and leadership skills to make sure everyone in the kitchen is getting along together. It can be quite stressful during busy periods so it's really important that we all work well together.

Was it a smooth journey?

The people I work with have given me lots of support and made it as smooth as possible for me. I have always loved food and cooking, but wasn't sure how to get a job out of it.

My mum saw The Rick Stein Chef Apprenticeship being advertised and I applied when I was doing my AS-levels at college. I did an interview and two weeks later they told me I'd got the job and I moved to Cornwall.

It's been challenging at times and the progression from apprentice to chef de partie has been intense, but I'm doing what I love!

Isabel and a dish she has made.
Isabel has to use Maths skills when planning new dishes to make sure the restaurant makes a profit.

Top tips

  • Being a chef is hard work but it's very rewarding
  • You need to be passionate about food and cooking to be a successful chef.

What to expect if you want to be a chef

A chef de partie is a chef in charge of a particular area in the kitchen of a restaurant. Training as a chef can lead to many opportunities.

  • Chef salary: £13,000 to £50,000 per year
  • Chef working hours: 40 to 45 hours hours per week
  • Typical entry requirements: You can study a foundation degree, higher national diploma, or degree in Professional Cookery and Culinary Arts. Another way into the job is to take a college course, like a Level 3 Diploma in Professional Cookery or Level 4 Diploma in Professional Culinary Arts. With experience, you could progress to section chef (station chef) and look after a particular area like desserts. The next step is sous chef, running an entire kitchen when the head chef is busy. As head chef (also known as chef de cuisine), you'll run a kitchen, create menus, and manage the budget. You could also move into the business side of running a restaurant by taking a foundation degree or degree in Hospitality Management.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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