Work Environment of a Chef: What Is it Like to Work in a Professional Kitchen?

Work Environment of a Chef: What Is it Like to Work in a Professional Kitchen?

Ask anyone what they think of when picturing a professional chef at work, and you'll get descriptions of images like a person standing over a gleaming metal table, adding a garnish, or a line cook placing finished dishes in a window for a waitperson to pick up. But life in a professional kitchen is much more involved than that, and if you're thinking of going to culinary school to learn to be a chef, you have to know what you're getting into.

The atmosphere in a professional kitchen may sound daunting now, but don't worry -- you can learn the ropes. If you are really determined to be a chef, you'll handle the challenges well.

Not Like Home

Professional kitchens are not like your home kitchen, no matter how busy you might think it is. Professional kitchens are going almost all the time. They open well before the restaurant does, and they close well after. There are no breaks in the kitchen; while individual people have to take meal breaks, the kitchen generally will not close. It's a rare restaurant now that actually shuts down for a couple of hours in the middle of the day so the staff can eat together.

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Kind of Like Home

A well-oiled (no pun intended) kitchen functions like a family. You know who is handling what for each meal, and everyone is familiar with how others in the kitchen handle their work. There is a set schedule, and workers help each other out. You are expected to show up -- unlike home, you can't tell everyone to go get fast food because you're tired -- but if someone's lagging for a good reason, others in the kitchen try to help.

Demanding Work Days -- and Nights

As mentioned, kitchens open early and close late. As a chef, you'd be expected to put in a lot of hours, not just eight. You could end up working all week depending on the particular events happening then. As restaurant workers, you do get legal time off, of course, but if another chef is in the hospital, for example, the remaining chefs have to cover. You must be OK with having work take precedence in your life if you want to work in a professional kitchen.

Teamwork Is Essential

The professional kitchen gets hot and highly energetic, and that can lead to friction between personalities who don't get along. You have to both put an end to this nonsense if you see it happening in your kitchen and quell your own desire to scream at someone who is annoying you. If a worker is truly getting on everyone's nerves, that worker may be better off elsewhere. For kitchens where the workers generally get along, though, everyone has to look at the work as a mutual goal, and everyone has to be understanding of one another.

Messy Does Not Equal Creative Genius Here

Your professional kitchen has to be organized. When you are trying to cook dinner for a dining hall full of people, you need to know where everything is and how much there is so you can grab it immediately. If you've got someone in your kitchen moving items around so that you can't find ingredients or tools, that person has to be corrected. You must keep everything in its place.

Plus, an organized kitchen is a lot easier to keep clean for those surprise health department inspections. If you have a messy kitchen, you create hiding places for vermin that could close your kitchen quickly.

Work Environment of a Chef: What Is it Like to Work in a Professional Kitchen?

If all that still sounds fine to you because it means you'd get to cook professionally, take a look at ECPI University's Culinary Institute of Virginia’s Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts. This program is offered at an accelerated rate, allowing you to move quickly through classes. Connect with a friendly admissions advisor today to start moving toward your culinary career goal.

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