How to be a Head Chef: King of the Kitchen

Everyone in the food industry has different goals for themselves, but ask newcomers in the restaurant industry what they strive for, and you’ll probably hear a lot of people say “I want to be a Head Chef someday”.  Yet many do not know what that means or the long road it takes to get there.

Okay, so what is a Head Chef?

First of all, the term “Head Chef” can mean many different things. A Head or Master Chef (also known as an Executive Chef in some cases) is the one in charge of the kitchen. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re cooking though. In fact, most often, you aren’t going to find the Head Chef of a high end restaurant working the line on a Saturday night. This is what line cooks, sous chefs, and other jobs specific to cooking are for.

What a Head or Executive Chef does is make sure the kitchen runs efficiently. This means menu planning, ordering products, hiring kitchen employees, and anything else that needs to be done to run a professional kitchen. It can mean long hours, but since a Head Chef is one of the top paid professionals in the food industry, it can be worth it.

What kind of person does it take to get an Executive or Master Chef job?

Knowing how to cook is important, but since an Executive Chef’s job doesn’t always including working in the hot kitchen, this quality isn’t as important as some others.

To be a successful Head Chef, a candidate needs to:

  • Be extremely organized and able to juggle multiple responsibilities at once
  • Have an extensive knowledge of food and menu preparation, as well as basic nutrition
  • Be able to cost out recipes and menus, and purchase food accordingly so that the restaurant does not lose money
  • Be a good leader and manager. The Head Chef is in charge of the entire kitchen, and has to be able to give employees the right direction in order to succeed.
  • Have knowledge of the different positions in the kitchen, and which positions are responsible for what
  • Have an overall good business sense

These are only some of the requirements of becoming head of a professional kitchen. Each restaurant has it’s own requirements, so this is just the basics.

So How Can I Become a Head or Executive Chef?

Well, it goes without saying that you don’t learn all those qualities overnight. Most Master Chef’s spend years in the restaurant industry before making their way to the top, and unless you plan on opening your own restaurant and designating yourself the Head Chef (an expensive and risky venture), you’ll have to pay your dues.

Not every path is the same, and your knowledge of the industry as well as your personal ambition will determine how long the journey is for you, but here are some steps you can take to get you headed in the right direction:

Look into a formal culinary education. It’s not a requirement, but it certainly helps you stand apart from others in the industry as you work your way to the top. Remember, a degree will only help you in the process, it is not a guarantee of anything.

Network, network, network. Go to conferences and events and introduce yourself. If you know about a job opening before it’s posted in a public place such as a job board or website, you’ll probably have a better chance at getting the job.

Realize early on that you’ll have to start at the bottom. This might mean washing dishes, or making grilled cheese sandwiches; whatever it is, don’t be too proud to pay your dues.

Try to gain as much experience as possible. Take jobs in catering or ethnic restaurants even though that may not be your cup of tea. The more knowledge you have, the more well rounded you are, and the more you bring to the table when you are applying for your dream job.

Don’t stop learning or bettering yourself. Continuing education in the form of classes and seminars, as well as professional certifications such as those in the American Culinary Federation show that you are serious about your career and the industry itself.

By working hard and following this path, you can achieve your goal of becoming a Head Chef. It’s a long road, but if you’re looking for power, prestige and the income that goes with it, this could be the job for you.

For more information about the job description of Head Chef, check out the following resources:

American Culinary Federation Certification Guide:

http://www.acfchefs.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Certification1&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=21527

Head Chef Salary / Pay Information

http://www.culinaryschools.org/career-info/salaries/

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http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=989

 

 

 

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