It is easy to imagine, once you have trained to be a chef, that your workplace will be in a restaurant, hotel, café or pub. The reality is, though, that professional chefs are needed in very many different settings. From the military to private homes, in the air or in a classroom, there are many options for you to consider.
One critical chef role is within our NHS. Our health service provides meals to some of the most vulnerable people in society at what can be a very worrying time. They also feed our NHS staff. These essential workers not only have to create delicious food, they have to be mindful of cultural and dietary preferences and nutrition and produce very high standards of cooking.
We caught up with Philip Shelley, Chair of NHS Food Review to find out more about NHS Careers in Catering;
What is the main Chef role in the NHS?
NHS chefs have a number of roles to play – lead on food safety, dynamic risk assessing in a pressured environment, preparing, cooking and serving food to the highest standard for 2 main meals per day and specialist breakfast orders plus staff dinning, understand the necessity of timing to ensure that food is at its best at the point of service.
How many people do this role across England?
Although there are 223 trusts in England there could be anything from 2 – 30 chefs depending on the style of service – cook-chill, cook-fresh, plated or fresh cook – in each trust there maybe a number of acute, community and/or mental health hospitals.
What are the main responsibilities?
These are the same as for any chef and include food safety and quality of service is the main objective for a chef in the NHS. Promoting and leading dynamic teams to understand the value of good food is essential. Understanding the role of procuring quality food, understanding how fresh food should be rotated, minimising any waste are driving factors in NHS Catering. At all times we need to provide a safe environment – temperature checking for fridge, freezers as well as hot and cold food prior to service. Hazard analysis of the environment, pest control and reporting procedures. They have the added responsibility of producing specialist diets such as energy dense foods and providing for cultural and lifestyle diets.
What are the common misconceptions about being a chef in the NHS?
Generally, in the NHS, chefs are seen as “back of house”, not innovating, little use of flair and following strict and regimented guidelines. Like many careers in the NHS, the role of a chef is a key ingredient to services being exemplary, making a difference to everyone that we serve. That chefs in the NHS do not require skills as they only reheat food or use packet mixes when the very opposite is true as NHS Chefs need to deal with complex needs to aid recovery and will often juggle several specialist dietary menus such as low residue or allergen as well as the standard daily menu and staff feeding.
How is being a Chef in NHS different to the private sector?
One of the biggest differences in being a chef in the NHS is the necessary understanding of diets, allergies and the need of suitable nutrition to empower recovery for our patients. The working pattern within the NHS is also very different to a role of a chef in the private sector – shift patterns are family friendly; 8 hour shifts with formalised breaks, flexible working with a focus on equality. Annual leave is very generous, the pension and human resource support is supportive which automatically provides security.
What do recruitment managers look for in an NHS chef?
Throughout the NHS we are looking for caterers that understand that their role is vital in the recovery of patients as well as the well-being for staff. We want chef’s to be able to innovate, show ff their skills and at the same time realise that food safety is paramount. Being able to lead teams of chefs and catering assistants as well as being able to take personal responsibility for their own actions is vital. The relationship between catering, dietetic and nursing is vital if we are to support the idea of a “whole hospital approach” – all working collaboratively to provide the best service possible.
How can people progress and learn in their careers as an NHS Chef?
The NHS provides structure, balance and opportunity for those that want to progress in their career. From assistant chef, to head chef, catering manager and then facilities manager takes time but is very possible – what is important is having the skill and understanding of a chef so they can develop from a strong base of understanding. 1-2-1’s and appraisals are perfect opportunities to share the passion to evolve and learn of the opportunities that are open to employees.