There’s no “one” correct answer to how long a chef should stay in a given chef job. What’s acceptable and what’s beneficial, to the chef and the employer, will be different according to context and the stage each chef is at in his or her career. Move job too often and your value as a chef will fall, your Chef CV will become ragged. Employers don’t and won’t want to have to go back to square one and look for your replacement in six months time (exception being seasonal operations or fixed term contracts). On the other hand stay too long in the same kitchen and you risk a couple of things, the first is being typecast i.e. he/she is an Accor Chef, or a IHG Chef, or a Hilton Chef. The other risk is that you become a prisoner of your employer. They’ll realise that at a certain point you long passed the optimal time to move and that making an advantageous move would now be very difficult for you. You’re theirs, and all that implies, and the one thing strongly implied here is that you’re going to be taken for granted, and that’s seldom got much in the way of an upside.
Chef Job Length of Stay | Longevity Vs Flightiness
Ideal lengths of time to remain in any given chefs job are probably easier to get down on paper, or in this case on a blog, in the negative or stated by what’s not ideal and what you should seek to avoid. I think there’s more freedom in defining it that way because, truth be told there isn’t an “ideal” but there certainly are some no-noes that are fairly easy to state. Once these are avoided then whatever other career strategies you go with should at least have a limited “downside potential.” Also remember that the ambitious Chef knows that building a stellar career is as much about the types of move as it is about length of stay, but length of stay DOES MATTER! Get the balance right and you’ll be in demand; you might even find yourself the object of a Chef Headhunter’s chase, which is never bad for the ego and can often be good for your career.
Here we run into problems of definition straight away. In Ireland, where our Chef Recruitment Agency was founded, Commis Chef denotes apprenticeship which once constituted a four year period. To say there’s been some slippage here, in the last decade or so, would be an understatement. College placements aside it used to be the case that you were expected to “serve your time” in the one kitchen. That’s ambitious. In my own case I succeeded in keeping it down to two; the first a restaurant and then a hotel. I would though recommend in trying to keep it down to about two. Remember though that the quality of the establishment matters so if you get an opportunity to really move up in the world then you should weigh all factors before deciding. On continental Europe Commis Chef is what you become after a three year learning period. In that case least amount of time you should look to clock up as a Commis Chef in any given kitchen is one year.
Demi Chef and Chef De Partie
Seasonal Jobs aside a Chef CV with an average, or a trending average (record over the last two, three and four years) or more than one job a year will make you less attractive to high value employers. This doesn’t mean you won’t continue to get job offers, that depends on several variables, it just means that the better employers will, all other factors being equal, prefer chefs with a record of longer stays. On the other hand if, two years into your employment, advancement isn’t on the cards then you should certainly begin looking elsewhere. There’s a goldilocks zone in every career and staying too long without upward movement, or at the very least, a career enhancing “lateral transfer” isn’t recommended either. I know that whenever I see a Chef De Partie or Demi Chef De Partie is “two years in” on their employment, especially if they’re working at a high quality business, they then become prime time for me to approach, assuming I’ve got a job they should be interested in.
Sous Chef and Executive Sous Chef
The same seasonal chef jobs exception applies as above, with an additional, although rare, exception: “Specialists in New Openings.” Some of the most prestigious international hotel brands maintain crews of highly rated chefs, in senior positions, whom they use to get new properties up and running. Be careful, if you’re a potential employer, not to misinterpret their, busier than usual, CVs as a sign of flightiness or low value; you could make a very costly mistake and miss out on elite culinary talent if you do. Those exceptions aside you’re now hitting the point in your career when longer stays, i.e. over one year, begin to become expected. Sous Chefs are important and Executive Sous Chefs even more so and employers really don’t want to have to fill these vacancies every year. As a regular Sous Chef if you make it to a year in a job and feel your ambitions can be best realised in a new location, then go for it but do so accepting that this isn’t a card you’ll be able to play very often in your career from here on in, at least if you’re serious about keeping your credibility intact. Likewise as Executive Sous Chef a year is the bare minimum of acceptability and, frankly you really should be aiming for a minimum of eighteen months to two years. If at that stage your employer can’t accommodate your ambitions through internal promotion they’ll understand, and so will any future employer, your desire to move.
Head Chef and Executive Chef
If, in your case, you’re a Head Chef working under an Executive Chef, then please see the previous entry. If, on the other hand, you’re the top dog in the kitchen then this applies to you. In terms of minimum length of employment this isn’t a whole lot different than what applies to Sous Chefs and Executive Sous Chefs except there’s more latitude to stay in the job longer, without being typecast as lacking in ambition. Remember though that if you’re in that job, say, ten years then you’re probably going nowhere. By that I don’t intend to imply that you’ll never move again, but that moving to a different type of business is going to be much more difficult. You’re now in the world of the lateral transfer. Lateral transfers can be good, often bringing more money and better conditions, but if you’ve been head chef in a four star hotel for ten years then you’re probably not going to take over the kitchens of a five star deluxe kitchen any time soon. However if you’re a decade in the top position in one of the most admired businesses in your country then that’s very different, you’ll always be in demand, but then again if you’re that chef you almost certainly don’t need any advice from a recruitment droid like myself.
Chef De Cuisine
If I had a reliable definition for Chef De Cuisine then I’d offer my ten cents worth on that too, but that job title is incredibly mutable, and in permanent flux, depending on what territory or company is the reference point. Of course much of this discussion fails to make allowances for fate. You don’t always have full control and there are externalities you don’t control; restaurants can shut down, management can change, war can break out etc. However Chefs with excellent CV’s tend to present for job interviews with minimal externalities to speak of, they don’t need to do that much speaking, their CV does that for them. The Chef with too many jobs in too short a time though, that chef has a lot of talking to do and there are only so many externalities likely to befall any given chef over the course of their career. If you want the good stuff, the best jobs, the best pay and security, you have to make employers feel that you’re road tested and reliable. A flightily CV doesn’t do that, so if you have one of these already and are getting the feeling that you really “need” to get out from where you’re at I’ve one word for you, don’t! You’re gonna need to start paying things down now unless your fate is to suffer a career in the bad jobs, with the worst employers i.e. the ones you’re going to want to move from again very soon. To break that vicious cycle or, better again, avoid it completely you’ll need to be resilient when circumstances aren’t ideal. Then again that’s what makes you a Pro, isn’t it? And it’s the Pros who are in demand, always.
Photo by Vincent_AF