The Challenges of a Relief Chef

Aug 9, 2019

Working as a Relief Chef isn’t the easiest of jobs and due to constraints within different businesses it can be very tough.

It takes a professional chef not only to be skilled in what they do but they need to have a certain demeanour and attitude, Relief Chefs must be organised and passionate about what they are cooking. They must remain calm under pressure and keep control of situations. Chefs have not always had the best reputation in the past for being calm and cool headed however I think this has changed over the past few years and the ‘cooler’ chefs are coming through.

So why can it be so challenging? There are so many different reasons; the first being it’s like starting a new job everyday when you are going to a new place. You arrive on site and sometimes they aren’t the easiest to find in the early hours of the morning in the dark. You then must work with people you have never met before, there is no time for team bonding! Agency chefs can be called in to help for many reasons which include covering sickness, holidays, busy periods or whilst a new member of staff is recruited sometimes cover is booked in advance but very often it’s quite last minute, so they never know exactly what they are walking into or the situation of the business. If a kitchen has been short staffed for a day or two then prep and cleanliness may have got behind, food orders from suppliers might be wrong or not placed therefore causing issues before you have even started your first shift. As a relief chef it’s your job to walk in and get on with it but this can be quite difficult when you are thrown in at the deep end and the kitchen isn’t at the level it should be.

Like any job when you have been doing it a while it gets easier. When you haven’t worked somewhere before you don’t know the daily operation of the kitchen, every kitchen out there is different, you need to quickly familiarise yourself with service times, number of covers you are feeding, how the food is being served and generally what is going on and expected from you. The next bit which takes a little time is finding your way around the kitchen, you need to know where the pots and pans are, the dry store, where the utensils are, which fridge houses which food etc. If the equipment needs switching on you need to do this and sometimes locating the Gas switch can be harder than you imagine, I write from experience!

You quickly need to learn how different dishes are served, the clients portion specifications and plating up as they require.

Next its on to prep and getting ready for service, it’s always more difficult to do when you haven’t been somewhere before especially when you can get ‘walk in’ customers and you don’t know how busy you might be. Certain businesses have lots of different dietary requirements so it’s making sure you know all of this and prep up accordingly. You quickly need to learn how different dishes are served, the clients portion specifications and plating up as they require.

Being a Relief Chef certainly is a challenge and the variation of the job never stops you getting bored. It can be extremely demanding and at times stressful, but it is also massively rewarding. After you complete the first shift for a new client and it’s all gone well you feel great or when the hundred elderly residents in a care home tell you how much they enjoyed their lunch and you know you have brightened their day it’s a wonderful feeling. When functions go smoothly, and you have happy wedding guests and an even happier bride and groom the stress is all worthwhile. The simple joy of feeding people and making them happy is enough, but when you are a relief chef it is also the client you are helping and sometimes you never know how much they appreciate your help and hard work, you helped them keep their business running smoothly!

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