Pūkenga Tao Kai
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Chefs prepare and cook food in restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars.
Chefs usually earn
$16-$25 per hour
Head or executive chefs usually earn
$22-$49 per hour
Source: Hospitality NZ and TIANZ, 2016.
Pay for chefs depends on the size, type and location of the establishment they work in, and the position they hold.
- Commis chefs usually earn between minimum wage and $18 an hour.
- Chefs de partie usually earn between $17 and $20 an hour.
- Sous chefs usually earn between $18 and $25 an hour.
- Head/executive chefs usually earn between $22 and $49 an hour.
Source: Hospitality NZ and Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIANZ), 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website – information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Chefs may do some or all of the following:
- prepare and cook food according to customers' orders
- arrange food on plates
- design, plan and price menus
- train and supervise staff
- keep work areas clean and tidy, and adhere to health and safety standards
- order food supplies and cooking equipment
- supervise cleaning and dishwashing
- keep records of supplies.
Skills and knowledge
Chefs need to have:
- food preparation, cooking and food presentation skills
- knowledge of budgeting, stock management and how to price and set up a menu
- understanding of hygiene and health and safety regulations
- knowledge of new developments in food nutrition, food technology and cooking methods.
- usually work long hours including evening and weekends, and they may be on call
- sometimes travel to food festivals and events, or to attend cooking competitions
- work in kitchens in conditions that can be hot, noisy and stressful, because food must be prepared quickly and to high standards.
What's the job really like?
What makes a good chef?
"Having empathy – being able to relate to the struggles your cooks are going through, and taking steps towards elevating them.
"Also, hard work. There isn’t any great chef anywhere in the world who hasn’t done the grunt work, like peeling potatoes by the barrel load or cleaning the floors."
Best part about being head chef?
"Two parts. First, seeing the faces of people who have only eaten chain store pizza as they suddenly realise our pizza is simple and more than the sum of its parts. Second, seeing my staff after three to six months of training when they start to really get it and realise the nuances of your hand movements create a better product. We all get excited when that moment happens."
Is there a worst part of your job?
"I’m not a fan of cleaning the floors."
Did you do any training?
"I didn’t do formal training. I did a lot of staging [unpaid internships in chefs' kitchens to learn their techniques and cuisine] around the world under gurus I wanted to learn from, and a lot of reading."
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
"Do it 100 percent! A lot of work and sacrifice is required to get great. Take any opportunity and draw on knowledge from others who are already good."
Ashley talks about life as a chef - 1.29 mins. (Video courtesy of Got a Trade? Got it Made!)
In my opinion, on job training works better because I learn from excellent chefs, I learnt how to cook different varieties of food, when you study in the kitchen and you get paid for it. The other thing is I get to see the customers eat my food and I get to see the reaction on their face, if they like it then I did my job. And what makes me most proud is that I made my family proud, my friends proud.
If you want to become a chef it’s best to study in school, get a job in the kitchen, any job, you start from a kitchen hand and work your way up, become an apprentice, it’s the best way to learn on the job. What I really want to do with my career is open up my own restaurant and I’d call it The Slammin’ Salmon.
I’m Ashley Wade, I’m a chef at The Village Kitchen. I’ve got a trade and I’ve got it made.
Chefs can train in a number of ways. You may complete a:
- two to three-year, on-the-job apprenticeship, including study towards a National Certificate in Hospitality – Cookery (Level 4)
- one-year, full-time National Certificate in Hospitality – Basic Cookery (Level 3) through a training provider
- one-year, full-time National Certificate in Hospitality – Cookery (Level 4) through a training provider.
You can also train to be a chef with the NZ Army or Royal NZ Navy.
- NZQA website - cookery (Level 3) information
- NZQA website - cookery (Level 4) information
- Service IQ website - information on chef qualifications
- NZ Army website - information on becoming an army chef
- Royal NZ Navy website - information on becoming a navy chef
There are no specific secondary education requirements, but some training providers may require NCEA Level 1 numeracy and literacy credits.
Chefs need to be:
- able to work well under pressure
- able to work well in a team
- willing to learn new cooking methods, recipes and menus
- organised, quick and efficient, while still being patient and careful
- creative and open-minded
- able to follow instructions
- good at planning
- good at communicating and managing people.
A good chef needs to be able to move through the kitchen quickly, jumping from place to place and being totally responsible for what they do.
Useful experience for chefs includes:
- work as a kitchen assistant or kitchenhand
- staging (unpaid internships in chefs' kitchens to learn their techniques and cuisine)
- any work involving preparing food for others
- any hospitality industry experience
- catering experience
- bakery work.
Chefs need to have a good sense of taste and smell. They also need to have a reasonable level of strength, fitness and stamina as they often have to carry heavy items, such as bulk ingredients, and spend long hours on their feet.
Find out more about training
- Hospitality New Zealand
- (04) 385 1369 - email@example.com - www.hospitalitynz.org.nz
- Restaurant Association of New Zealand
- 0800 737 827 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.restaurantnz.co.nz
- 0800 863 693 - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Strong demand for qualified chefs
The job of chef appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled chefs from overseas to work in New Zealand.
The shortage of chefs is caused by:
- too few people doing chef training
- many chefs leaving to work overseas, where they can get better pay
- a high number of chefs leaving the profession – only 42 of every 100 cookery graduates are still in the industry after five years.
Types of employers varied
Most chefs work for restaurants and hotels. They can also work at:
- bars or taverns
- corporate catering firms.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long-term Skill Shortage List', accessed January 2015, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- New Zealand Chefs Association website, accessed January 2016, (www.nzchefs.org.nz).
- Tourism Industry Association New Zealand, 'TIA 2015 Salary Survey', accessed January 2016, (www.tianz.org.nz).
- Robertson, B, chief executive officer, Hospitality New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2015.
Progression and specialisations
Chefs may specialise in different cuisines such as French or Japanese.
They also progress through different levels:
- Commis chefs work in all areas of the kitchen. They prepare and cook food, and may also wash dishes and clean.
- Chefs de partie are in charge of one section of the kitchen such as fish or pastry. They train and supervise staff in their sections, and may plan menus, and buy food and equipment.
- Sous chefs are second-in-charge, and manage the kitchen in the absence of the head chef.
- Head/executive chefs are responsible for the whole kitchen, including staff management, budgets and menus.
Last updated 7 September 2017