Over the past 25 years, I have had several different job roles in the food industry, which have varied in hours, shift patterns and expectation.
Currently, I am a full-time chef, typically working 45 to 50 hours over a 5 day week. My average working day, although fairly routine, tends to be pretty full and demanding. The following is a timetable of a typical working day in my life and I hope it will aid in giving some of you young budding chefs out there an idea of what is involved in the daily running of a commercial kitchen.
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
My first hour of the day involves the preparation and set up of the carvery, salad bar and the kitchen for lunch service. Obviously, this hour is always very time-pressured and establishing a routine for what to do and when is paramount in ensuring everything is completed on time.
12:00 pm – 2:30 pm
This is the lunch service. During this time, any orders that come through to the kitchen are attended to as quickly as possible. At the same time should anybody come up for a carvery, somebody from the front of house will inform the kitchen, and one of usually 2 or 3 of us will have to go out to the restaurant and serve. Whoever does serve also tops up the carvery when needed and ensures it remains clean, tidy and organised.
During any quiet periods there maybe during service, the focus is then turned to either any ‘prep’ that may need doing for evening service or in general and/or cleaning or washing up. In our kitchen, everybody chips in with any washing up so that we can stay ahead of the game as much as possible heading towards kitchen close down.
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
This is the end of lunch service and kitchen close down. From 2:30 or quite often actually from around 2:00, any prep is finished off, food items, and ingredients etc. are wrapped up, labelled and put away. A collective effort is then made to clean the kitchen down, bring the carvery back in, wash everything up, sweep the floor, take the bins out and finally sanitise all food preparation areas ready for the evening.
3:30pm – 5:30/6:00pm
5:30 pm – 6:00 pm
At 5:30 one member of the team will be put on the rota to come in and set up the carvery and kitchen again ready for evening service. This is a little easier and quicker than setting up for lunch as things are already prepared from lunchtime and ready to put straight out.
6:00 pm – 9:30 pm
This is the evening service. Just like lunch service, during this time, any orders that come through to the kitchen are attended to as quickly as possible. Generally speaking, evening service tends to be busier than lunchtimes. Therefore we tend to assign specific people to certain positions so that we all know exactly what we are expected to oversee. This establishes a system (or as I often call it a ‘battle plan’) and, all being well, makes for a more efficient, smoother flowing service.
9:30 pm – 11:00/11:30 pm
This is the end of the dinner service. Usually, from around 9:00, maybe a little before, we all, like lunchtime, begin the task of gradually putting things away, bringing the carvery and salad bar back in and then cleaning down the entire kitchen. Cleaning down in the evening usually takes a little longer than lunchtime, as it involves draining the ‘auto sham’ (hotholder/cooker) and putting more joints of meat in for the following day, cleaning and refilling the salad bar, preparing the next carvery pie for the morning, ensuring everything is labelled correctly and then eventually carrying out a thorough clean of the kitchen, finishing of course with the floor, the bins and finally the dish wash area.
While this is all happening, the head chef or 2nd chef will usually ring through any ordering of either fruit & veg, meat, frozen, refrigerated or ambient goods for delivery the next day.
Phew... and there you have it folks!
That is currently a typical working day for me! Sounds exhausting doesn’t it - and you’d be right! I do, however, enjoy what I do, and I think after so many years in the trade, you tend to build up the stamina and ability to deal with it. I am fortunate that I work with a great team and for great employers that often show their appreciation and that in itself can be a good driving force.
What you may also have noticed is that my days start relatively late and end fairly late and having worked these kinds of shift patterns for a considerable number of years, I find my body clock is now pretty much fixed this way. Even on my days off, I find myself waking up later and heading to bed later. This is very much part and parcel of being a chef, although of course, various job roles may see you doing the opposite (i.e. breakfast chefs).
I think most chefs will tell you that a customary ‘unwinding’ period is usually needed in the evenings once home before heading to bed. This has absolutely always been the case for me, and with starting later in the mornings, this is usually possible. Being a chef, like a lot of jobs, it is a way of life. It can be stressful, tiring and physically draining BUT at the same time, with commitment, and if working with the right team, it can be extremely rewarding. As I have said before, frankly I can’t imagine myself doing anything else!