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Blog at Chefify

How to get from Line Chef to Executive Chef

Mar 21 2019 - 10:35am
Like it or not, the French culinary brigade system is the established hierarchy when it comes to cheffing positions, and, to a large extent, it serves a functional purpose of making sure that every successful kitchen is steered with consistency and efficiency.

It’s not uncommon to enter the industry without qualifications, and often, experience. The kind of mentorship you receive throughout your career will largely determine the weight of your CV. The higher you climb up the ladder, the harder it becomes to find and get selected for the coveted positions of executive chef, head chef and sous chef. So, if you’re keen to pass through the ranks, you need to set your sights on a clear goal and be prepared to put in the time, effort and passion into developing yourself professionally.

Once you become a line chef, or chef de partie, you may find yourself at risk of being siloed in your current post if you don’t start taking a vested interest in your progression.

But where do you start?

We’re going to break it down for you in this blog.

From a line chef/chef de partie

This role usually means you operate a specific section of the kitchen. For example:

  • Roasting

  • Frying

  • Grilling

  • Pastry

  • Vegetable prep

You’re responsible for your station, and you may or may not have someone lower ranking assisting you. The problem here is, you may get typecast as a one-trick pony. So, how do you use the experience gained in this role in propelling you towards a sous chef position?

At this point in your career, you need to show that you are versatile, open to learning, flexible and capable of leading. Seize every training opportunity offered by the restaurant, maintain good, open channels of communication between you and your colleagues and take an interest in the operational side of the kitchen.

One to two years in this role is enough to gain relevant experience, from that point on, you should probably keep your ear to the ground for new opportunities, but also make sure that your existing superiors have a good relationship with you and are likely to consider you for promotion should the opportunity arise.

Becoming a sous chef

A sous chef is usually the second in command, and the responsibilities will overlap with that of a head chef.

To get this title, you have to have to have acquired a broad experience in a variety of kitchens. You also need excellent communication skills as you will have to relay instructions to the rest of the team, train new staff and liaise with suppliers and business owners when the head chef is unavailable.

Becoming a head chef or executive chef    

The responsibilities of these roles are mostly similar, and whether they are applied as separate positions really depends on the size and nature of the establishment.

In this role, you’ll be able to exercise more creative control over the menu and the ingredients used in the dishes. You’ll also be responsible for implementing hygiene protocols, hiring staff, rotating shifts and overseeing the finances and overall direction of the restaurant as a business.

How to develop your career path

It doesn’t really matter where you currently sit in the culinary hierarchy. Every day that you come into the kitchen is an opportunity for you to learn, hone your skills, network with other professionals and share your ideas. A focussed approach will help you to get to your desired destination faster.

We have a few top tips to help you improve your skills and become more noticeable to headhunters and management teams:

Develop strong people management skills

You could take courses in management or simply observe and study senior members of staff. Compassion, leadership and strong organisational skills attribute to your ability to take on roles such as sous chef and executive chef. Most importantly, you must know how to delegate tasks, give appraisals, diffuse difficult situations and hire suitable candidates for your restaurant.

Strong leadership skills

Leadership is about example. Showing an understanding of every process in your kitchen and having a strong and consistent work ethic will earn you the support of fellow colleagues. Equally, leadership isn’t about enforcing your own ideas insisting that people follow your plans. It’s about listening and understanding the concerns of your team in order to make mutually beneficial decisions for everyone.  

Be a team player

As an executive chef or sous chef, you will understandably have seniority over the rest of the staff. But that doesn’t isolate you from the rest of the team. People appreciate a leader who is able to roll his sleeves up and much in when necessary. Make sure that you see your kitchen staff as a team, and that you participate within that team.

Create industry related content

One of the best ways to get yourself noticed in a very competitive market is to know your niche and to talk about it. Keeping up a regular blog that shares your ideas about recipes, ingredients or dishes you’ve created can help you to build a following. Taking such initiatives also helps to position you as an industry authority, and who knows, your next employer may be a reader.

Seek out mentors

The cheffing world is still firmly rooted in processes that rely on word of mouth. Getting your name out there is a case of producing high-quality dishes, but it’s also about who you know.

Taking the time to seek out and study under chefs you admire will not only improve your skills, but it will also help you to network with individuals who have the ability to put your name forward whenever an opportunity arises.

Get qualifications

Yes, cheffing is largely experience based. But when seeking out promotions, it doesn’t hurt to have the credentials: hygiene being a highly valuable area to have certification in. Putting time aside to acquire accreditation shows a commitment to improvement on your part, something that employers will certainly value.

Conclusion

The ascend to a head chef role isn’t always straight forward, you may spend longer in some positions than others, but as long as you are actively seeking to improve yourself, make new contacts and to leave a positive impression on everyone you encounter professionally, you will be much better positioned for new opportunities.

Find out the other ways to develop your career by downloading the guide to becoming a better chef
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