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What does a commis chef do?
Commis chefs are junior chefs working in a kitchen after finishing their culinary training or during their studies. They work under chefs de partie (line chefs) and assist them with food preparation, cooking and serving at sections within a kitchen, called stations. In larger kitchens, they may also work under first commis chefs and other senior chefs, such as sous chefs.
The commis chef role is at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy. It is for those starting their career as a chef, as it is an entry-level position. Most chefs, even celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, have started their careers as commis chefs. Once individuals have gained more experience, they can become first commis chefs with more responsibility and continue to climb the career ladder.
Commis chefs may handle various foods as they train, including meat, fish, vegetables, sauces and pastries. After becoming more experienced, they can generalise and move to different stations and specialise in specific foods under the management of a chef de partie. Therefore, what a commis chef does will depend on their specialisms.
A commis chef’s main aim is to learn and understand the basic functions of the kitchen and gain experience at various stations. They help chefs de partie and other senior chefs to ensure the food produced is high quality, well-presented, flavoursome and reflects what the customer has ordered. They must also protect customers from being harmed by unsafe food.
A commis chef will carry out many tasks, including assisting chefs de partie and other senior chefs, learning about their stations, developing new skills, measuring ingredients, helping prepare, cook and serve food, plating basic dishes, operating various kitchen equipment, disposing of expired food, dealing with deliveries, checking stock levels, etc. They may also help complete food safety checks and records.
Commis chefs can work with many colleagues in the kitchen and wider premises, including executive chefs, chefs de cuisine (head chefs), chefs de partie (line chefs), first commis chefs, kitchen porters, pot washing staff, waiting on staff and others. They may also be required to liaise with other external stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, delivery companies, Local Authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) and Trading Standards Officers (TSOs).
Commis chefs can work in different-sized establishments, from smaller businesses, e.g. pubs and restaurants, to organisations with a few hundred employees, e.g. large hotels. They can also work overseas on cruise ships. Some commis chefs may choose to work with agencies on temporary contracts.
A commis chef’s responsibilities will depend on their type of role, the food they handle and the establishment where they work. For example, a commis chef working in a Michelin-starred restaurant will have different responsibilities than one working in a small pub.
Some of the day-to-day duties commis chefs may have can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Assisting chefs de partie and other senior chefs with various tasks and following their instructions.
- Preparing ingredients, e.g. washing, peeling and cutting vegetables, passing stocks, cutting herbs and seasoning foods.
- Learning various techniques and skills, such as knife skills and cooking skills.
- Understanding basic cuts, e.g. chopping, dicing, julienne and chiffonade.
- Measuring ingredients and portions.
- Mixing and making up sauces.
- Cooking various elements of dishes.
- Plating and presenting simple dishes.
- Using various kitchen equipment.
- Keeping their kitchen area clean and tidy during and after shifts.
- Receiving and checking deliveries.
- Checking and rotating stock and supplies and disposing of any expired items.
- Following food safety and hygiene and health and safety policies and procedures.
- Completing food safety and hygiene records where required.
- Helping with any other tasks as necessary.
A commis chef can expect to work 40-45 hours a week, but they can do more hours depending on the requirements of their role. The shifts can be long and up to 12 hours a day. Most of this time will require individuals to be on their feet, so they must have a certain fitness level and be prepared to work hard.
Being a commis chef is not a 9-5 job, and those looking at entering the role must be committed to working unsociable hours, such as early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. There may be some roles that offer set days and hours. However, there may be a requirement for overtime in busy periods.
Travel may be a requirement for commis chefs if they work for a company with several food establishments or freelance at different locations. Some establishments may also provide on-site accommodation for commis chefs so they can stay during the season.
Some commis chefs will work overseas as part of their role, e.g. those working on cruise ships.
What to expect
Being a commis chef is hard work but rewarding, especially if individuals are passionate about food. Learning on the job and helping senior chefs prepare, cook and serve well-presented delicious dishes and getting positive feedback can give individuals a real confidence boost.
Having a meal out is an experience for people, and commis chefs are a part of this. They can go home after the working day knowing they have helped to make customers happy with fantastic food.
As individuals move up the career ladder and become recognised for their talent, they may get more opportunities to work in high-end establishments. There is the potential to earn fantastic salaries with more senior roles.
It is a good career choice for individuals who do not want to attend university, as a degree is not required. However, degrees are available in culinary arts and professional cookery. A degree can help individuals stand out if they decide to take this route.
There are opportunities to work in many different establishments nationally or globally, and there is scope for travelling and experiencing different cultures. There are also so many specialisms and cuisines; it is a diverse industry. Therefore, commis chefs are unlikely to get bored.
Even though being a commis chef is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Mental demands – working in a kitchen can be mentally demanding, as it can be fast-paced and stressful. Commis chefs must help senior chefs produce and serve meals promptly to customers. However, they will still need to maintain a high standard; in terms of quality, presentation and consistency. Being able to cope with pressure, criticism and displeased customers is essential.
- Difficult working conditions – depending on the type of kitchen, commis chefs will often need to cope with working in uncomfortable temperatures. It can get hot and humid with ovens, grills and hobs on. If there are walk-in refrigerators or freezers in the kitchen, it can get cold. Chef uniforms (whites), hats and aprons can increase discomfort, so individuals must prepare for varying temperatures.
- Physical demands – the role can be physically demanding, as commis chefs are on their feet for most of the day helping to prepare, cook and serve food. Their working hours are also often long and unsociable.
- Health and safety risks – working in a kitchen can be dangerous. Commis chefs will face many hazards, e.g. hot surfaces and liquids, use of kitchen equipment and appliances, knives, hazardous substances, slips, trips and falls, and work-related stress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has further information on health and safety in catering and hospitality.
- Food safety risks – unsafe food, e.g. contaminated with microorganisms, foreign objects, chemicals and allergens, can harm customers. Commis chefs must strictly comply with food safety and hygiene practices. If customers are made ill from unsafe food, it can result in complaints and local authority investigations. It may be too much responsibility for some individuals, but it is a necessary part of the role.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether the role is suitable. Working in a fast-paced kitchen is difficult and stressful. It is physically and mentally demanding, requires work in uncomfortable working environments, and the hours are long and unsociable. However, there are many positives, including good career progression opportunities.
When considering whether to be a commis chef and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a commis chef
Some of the personal qualities that a commis chef requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for food and cooking.
- A desire to learn, progress and develop.
- A high standard of personal hygiene and cleanliness.
- A good level of physical fitness and stamina.
- Assertive, proactive, confident, motivated and determined.
- Committed, loyal, hard-working and calm.
- Knowledge of food names, e.g. béchamel.
- Knowledge of food safety and hygiene and health and safety legislation.
- Knowledge of maths, e.g. for measuring ingredients.
- Good hazard perception and risk awareness.
- Have practical skills and can work effectively with their hands.
- Knife skills.
- Basic cookery skills.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Customer service skills.
- Listening skills and the ability to understand and follow instructions.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Being thorough and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment for basic tasks.
- The ability to work in a physically demanding role and environment (hot/humid).
- The ability to work with and maintain different kitchen equipment and appliances.
French language skills can also benefit individuals, as many food types and preparation methods are in French.
Qualifications and training
There are many routes to becoming a commis chef. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a private training course or do an apprenticeship. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become a commis chef. However, having a degree can help individuals stand out.
Some examples of topics that may be helpful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Culinary arts management.
- Professional chef.
- Professional cookery.
The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.
They will typically require the following:
- 1 or 2 A Levels for a foundation degree or higher national diploma.
- 2 or 3 A Levels for an undergraduate degree.
- 2:1 or 2:2 relevant undergraduate degree subject for a postgraduate degree.
Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview and a practical assessment as part of the selection process.
Undertaking a course can help individuals become commis chefs.
Some example courses that may be useful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Certificate in Food and Beverage Service.
- Level 1/2 Certificate in Food Preparation and Cooking.
- Level 2 Diploma in Culinary Skills.
- Level 2/3 Diploma in Professional Cookery.
- T Level Professional Chef.
- T Level Catering.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
- T Levels – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent (including English and maths).
Private training companies and culinary and cooking schools may also offer courses. It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short chef courses to see if a career as a commis chef would be of interest. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become commis chefs, e.g. commis chef intermediate apprenticeship. Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths or equivalent.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. The armed forces (Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force) also offer an apprenticeship route into the commis chef role.
There are no specific academic or training requirements to become a commis chef. Therefore, gaining qualifications is not the only route into the role. Work experience can also help individuals enter the profession.
Some employers may take on individuals as trainee commis chefs and train them on the job if they have the necessary personal qualities and enthusiasm for the role. It could help individuals if they have previous experience and at least a Level 2 food hygiene certificate. However, the requirements will depend on each employer.
Individuals may get paid to work in a kitchen (as a kitchen porter) in restaurants and pubs and learn on the job by shadowing chefs. They could also work with recruitment agencies on temporary contracts in catering roles, leading to something more permanent.
Volunteering can also help people gain valuable practical experience and develop skills, especially if they have no experience working in a kitchen. Individuals could volunteer with charities in their restaurants and cafes and help them with food preparation, cooking and serving. They could also work in community kitchens. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Any work experience relevant to working in a kitchen can be beneficial and can help an individual work towards becoming a commis chef. Even amateur community courses in food preparation and cooking can count.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession and enhance their employability.
We have many approved Food Hygiene Online Courses that can be useful for individuals looking at a career as a commis chef, for example:
- Food safety and hygiene training, e.g. a Level 2 course.
- HACCP training, e.g. a Level 2 course.
- Allergen awareness training.
- Anaphylaxis awareness.
- Nutrition and healthy eating.
We also offer other courses, which could be helpful for commis chefs, for example:
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Health and safety for employees.
- Fire safety.
- Manual handling.
- Work-related stress.
- Slips, trips and falls.
- First aid at work.
- Customer service skills.
- Resilience training.
- Time management.
Individuals may want to look at culinary and cookery schools for practical courses in specific areas, such as:
- Knife skills.
- Sauce making.
- Patisserie and confectionery.
- Pastry and baking.
- Meat butchery and cookery.
- Fish preparation and cookery.
- Vegetable preparation and cookery.
Language courses may also be a good idea, i.e. if wanting to work in a French or Italian restaurant.
Professional bodies, unions and associations may also advise on reputable training courses, e.g. the Craft Guild of Chefs, the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Worldchefs, The British Culinary Federation, Unichef, the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD), the Institute of Hospitality, and others. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become commis chefs and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on employers’ requirements and the areas and cuisine in which commis chefs want to specialise. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Caterer.com, Chef Jobs UK, Hospitality Jobs UK, Leisurejobs, allcruisejobs.com, and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement under health and safety and food hygiene legislation, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Where do commis chefs work?
Commis chefs can work for private companies, public authorities, charities, the NHS, the armed forces, churches, ferry companies, etc.
They will work in kitchens in a variety of establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Restaurants (chain, Michelin-starred or AA Rosette-awarded restaurants).
- Pubs, bistros and bars.
- Golf clubs.
- Theme parks and other attractions.
- Bed and breakfasts.
- Cruise ships.
- Hospitals (NHS or private).
- Schools, colleges and universities.
- Care homes and hospices.
- Armed forces military bases.
- Private households.
- Private businesses.
- Catering businesses (including contracts).
- Various events.
How much do commis chefs earn?
A commis chef’s salary will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employer, working hours, contract and specialist area.
Some examples of average salaries include the following (these figures are only a guide):
- £18,639 per year (Glassdoor).
- £20,250 per year (Jobted).
- £20,536 per year (Total Jobs).
- £22,452.73 per year (Check-a-Salary).
- £22,500 per year (Talent.com).
- Starter £15,000 per year and experienced £30,000 per year (National Careers Service – chefs).
The downside to an entry-level position is that salaries are relatively low, e.g. between £12,000 and £16,000, but this can quickly change with ambition. The more qualifications and experience an individual gains, the more earning potential they will have.
Earnings can also increase when individuals climb the career ladder, become renowned and work in a high-end food establishment with an excellent reputation, i.e. Michelin starred. Individuals must understand that it is a competitive field. Therefore, they must work hard if they want to have more earning potential.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of commis chef roles to specialise in
You have learnt that there is a hierarchy in the kitchen within a food establishment and many different types of chef roles.
In the beginning, commis chefs typically work in all sections of the kitchen to gain experience.
Once they become experienced, they could choose to specialise in specific stations, such as:
- Butcher (Boucher) station – preparing (butchering) meat, poultry, and fish and may also get involved with breading.
- Fish (Poissonnier) station – selecting, preparing (sometimes butchering) and cooking fish and fish dishes, including seafood.
- Fry (Friturier) station – specialising in fried food items.
- Grill (Grillardin) station – grilling foods, e.g. meats.
- Meat/Roast (Rotisseur) station – specialising in roasting and braising meats and sometimes making sauces.
- Pantry (Garde Manger) station – where foods are stored and prepared cold, e.g. salads, pâtés, cold appetisers and cured meats.
- Pastry (Pâtissier) station – specialising in baked goods and making plated desserts, bread, cakes and pastries.
- Roundsman (Tournant) – working on different stations around the kitchen and filling in as and when needed.
- Sauce (Saucier) station – making sautéed items, sauces and gravies accompanying other dishes. It is the highest position of all the stations.
- Vegetable (Entremetier) station – preparing vegetables, soups and other appetisers or side dishes.
All specialist stations require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All commis chefs must have basic food preparation and cooking skills and an appetite for learning and development. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and a commis chef’s intended specialisms. Further qualifications and training may be necessary for specialised areas.
If commis chefs do not do their job effectively and correctly, it can impact senior chefs and cause delays. Also, if they do not prepare, handle, cook and store food safely, it can result in customers becoming ill and enforcement action from Environmental Health Officers.
If food is not of the quality expected by customers and is not well-presented or tasty, it can also lead to a poor reputation. Unhappy customers can add negative reviews online, affecting future business. Therefore, commis chefs must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to produce food professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not carry out duties if they are not trained and competent.
Food safety and hygiene standards, culinary techniques, equipment, trends and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, commis chefs must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives commis chefs the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, as previously mentioned, can help prospective and current commis chefs enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within the industry. With more qualifications and experience, a commis chef can move up the hierarchy. They can become a first commis chef, demi chef de partie and chef de partie. With more years of experience and training, they can become future sous, head or executive chefs. They can focus on a particular cooking area, such as pastry. They may also move to larger premises, a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, or work overseas on a cruise ship.
Alternatively, with experience, individuals may want to move away from cooking to managing a food business or start up their own business and become freelance. They could also work on contracts with a recruitment agency. There is potential for growth and movement in catering and hospitality.
Knowledge, skills and experience can also lead to a career in different industries. For example, once a commis chef moves up the ranks and enters more senior roles, they may want to teach/train prospective chefs at a college, university or private training provider. They may also want to work in development kitchens or become a food critic, writer or blogger.