NZ Army Chefs fulfil one of the most vital roles in keeping our soldiers sustained, healthy and happy. Trained in both culinary arts and front-of-house service, you are responsible for the consistent delivery of tasty, nutritious meals, using both your technical and creative skills.

  • Service
  • Specialisation
  • Location
  • Starting Trade Training

About the role

Army Chefs (Caterers) are responsible for consistently providing NZDF personnel with well­-balanced nutritious meals that will sustain them through arduous activities. You will interact with people from all ranks, trades and units within the organisation, whether you're utilising your catering skills at home in the mess (dining hall), overseas on operations, or during competitions.

You’ll be taught all you need to know to operate effectively in a small catering team, fulfilling cooking and canteen service duties while working in a range of environments from full kitchen/dining facilities in camp to a tented field kitchen on exercise.

You will earn Chefs qualifications, train as a barista and have the opportunity to gain knowledge in other catering areas such as: event management, basic contracts and procurement, auditing and food inspection.

Job on base

Your daily task is to cater for large groups (varying from 80 to 800), using your logistics and planning skills to create menus that provide nutritional balance over sustained periods. At times you will cater for smaller groups, for example during formal dinners, where you’ll have an opportunity to create more intricate dishes. You may also be employed in managing bar and kitchen facilities.


You can expect to rotate through placements in either a soldiers, senior ranks, or officers mess within any one of the NZ Army camps. You will sometimes be cooking and providing table service for visiting dignitaries and other VIP guests, or provide bar support during functions.


Your core work hours are an 8 hour shift, ‘early’ shift starting around 5am, and ‘late’ shift finishing around 7.30pm. Further hours are required to provide support for formal dining and functions.

Job on deployment

Good meals and canteen services have a huge influence on the morale and well-being of deployed personnel, as this is when soldiers relax and receive the nutrition required to maintain operational effectiveness. While our personnel face unfamiliar environments and challenging conditions, your role as chef and the quality and thoughtful planning of your meals have a wider, positive impact.


Depending on the operational situation, you may be required to set up kitchens, or to maintain and improve kitchen, dining and recreational facilities. Your role may extend to other duties outside the kitchen such as sourcing produce and maintaining hygiene standards.


Chefs deploy with large contingents on various overseas operations. In the past, this has included Bosnia, Bougainville, East Timor, Dubai, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are opportunities to participate in exchange programmes to Australia and small exercises in the Pacific, or to work onboard Navy ships.

I love the diversity that we get in the NZDF. One day I could be in the kitchens doing a normal meal, the next day I could be running a formal dinner and the week after I could be up in Waiouru in a training area.

Career progression and training

Career progression

Basic training

Job training

Ongoing training

Initial catering training is provided at the Defence Catering School, where you will train alongside Navy Chefs and Stewards. This training is conducted at either Devonport (Auckland) or Waiouru, depending on training numbers for each course. 

You'll begin as an assistant Chef within a small team and progress on to leading the kitchen as Chef in charge of a shift. Eventually, you will move into facilities management and take up the role of Catering Unit Manager.

There are also opportunities to instruct at the Defence Catering School once you're fully qualified and have good experience under your belt.

Upon successful enlistment into the Army you will be posted to Waiouru Army base. Here you will do 16 weeks of basic military training to find out if you have what it takes to be in the Army, and learn various subjects including:

  • Organisation and Administration
  • Army Customs and Protocol
  • Drill and Parades
  • Military Field Skills and Weapon Training
  • First Aid
  • Physical Fitness

Corps Training RNZALR

Chefs will first attend a four-week basic course with the Royal New Zealand Army Logistics Regiment (RNZALR). This will familiarise you with the vehicles and equipment used by logistics trades. You may also begin training to gain your heavy trade, forklift, and other driving licences.

Chef (Catering) Trade Courses

Alongside your Army promotion courses you will complete a number of catering related trade courses. NZDF currently provides formal training to gain recognition through NZQA.

Throughout your career, you will attend multiple courses. These include an introduction to Catering where basic stewarding, cooking and knife skills are taught. The next course will be an Intermediate Chef Course which has you advancing to further complex dishes, bakery and butchery skills. Finally, you will complete the Advanced Chef Course.

In conjunction with each level of training there is a field component where you are taught how to cook with NZ Army field catering equipment for both small and large numbers in remote environments.

Course list

All following trade courses are held at the Defence Catering School in Devenport Naval Base (Auckland) or Waiouru Military Camp: 

  • NZDF Caterer Junior Course (Basic stewarding cookery and knife skills)
  • Army Caterer Operational Field Junior Course (Introduction to field catering equipment, and catering in the field environment)
  • NZDF Chef Intermediate Course (Intermediate cookery, bakery and butchery skills)
  • Army Caterer Operational Field Intermediate Course (Introduction to shift leader in the field environment)
  • NZDF Chef Senior Course (Advanced catering, complex menus and dishes, and function planning)
  • Army Caterer Operational Field Senior Course (Kitchen leader in the field environment)
  • NZDF Catering Manager’s Course (Kitchen and mess management, operational catering planning)
  • NZDF Caterer Advanced Course (Regional catering operational management across multiple facilities)

Job training will give you the opportunity to gain recognised qualifications in a range of catering fields. All Chefs will be trained to NZQA level 4 and also gain other qualifications in areas such as: barista skills, nutrition, auditing, food inspection, contracts, events and business management.


After one year of service, all full-time personnel are entitled to access our Voluntary Education Study Assistance (VESA) scheme. Through this, NZDF provides financial assistance for you to undertake part-time study towards tertiary qualifications.


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Salary and benefits

Chefs in the Army are well-rewarded, diverse and exciting. As you become more experienced and move up through the ranks, gaining additional skills and qualifications, your salary will rise accordingly.


Under Initial Training


Starting Trade Training


Future Potential Earnings

Figures updated on July 1st 2023

Benefits and allowances

Earn a competitive salary while training or learning your trade, along with additional allowances for time spent in the field, at sea, overseas, or deployed on operations.

In addition to salary and allowances, other benefits of joining the New Zealand Defence Force include:

Access to your Service marae or tūrangawaewae

Sponsored tertiary study programmes at all levels

Free access to gyms and swimming pools on camp and bases

Opportunities to travel

Free and subsidised medical and dental care

Subsidised food and accomodation on camps and bases

Free and subsidised insurance cover

Help to buy a home and save for retirement

Entry requirements



Fitness and medical


Period of service

  • You must be at least 17 years of age to apply
  • Meet the citizenship and security requirements to gain CV security clearance for this trade
  • Driver's Licence: A Class 1 restricted driver's licence is recommended but is not compulsory
  • Cooking experience, or a background in catering, will make you a more competitive applicant

3 years secondary school.

Note, that qualifications may be used to assess trade suitability.

  • You must be medically fit for service.
  • Colour perception restrictions may apply

There are strict citizenship and security requirements to gain the required CV security clearance for this trade.

Find out if you’re eligible here.

There is a requirement to serve in the NZDF for a minimum length of time after completing some courses. This is a Return of Service Obligation (ROSO), which includes the following for the Caterer trade:

  • 12 months Return of Service for D15011 NZDF Chef Intermediate Course or;
  • 18 months Return of Service for D15012 NZDF Chef Senior Course
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