How to Get a Job as a Prep Cook

Thinking about getting a food prep job as a prep cook?

To run efficiently restaurant kitchens don’t just rely on one person to do all the cooking. Often the kitchen is divided into different areas for different types of cooking, and one of those areas is the prepping station. This is where you’ll find prep cooks as they are often called in the industry.

What is a prep cook?

A prep cook is a food professional who gets all of the prep work out of the way for line cooks, sous chefs and other members of the kitchen staff. The job includes chopping fruits and vegetables, making stocks, soups and sauces, and cooking or preparing anything that can be made early and held over until service time. In some kitchens, cold prep, such as making salads or sandwiches is included in this position.

A prep cook must have excellent knife skills as well as a decent knowledge of food, cooking, and ingredients, as well as storage of prepared items. Safety and sanitation skills are also a must, as a prep cook must know how to avoid cross contamination while dealing with different ingredients.

While it is not the most desired job by some in the restaurant industry, there are some advantages to being a prep cook as opposed to the more stressful job as a line cook.

For one, since the prep cooks job is to get food ready for dinner service, the hours are often during the day, which means avoiding late nights. In addition, since there’s not a lot of cooking done all at once during these hours, often the kitchen is not stifling hot, and of course a prep cook doesn’t have to make anything to order so speed is not of utmost importance, although as with most jobs in the fast paced restaurant industry, being slow won’t impress your superiors.

How do I get a prep cook job, and what are the job responsibilities?

Being a prep cook is often a first step in a professional food career, and jobs in fine dining may require either formal education or demonstrated experience in the area. While it’s fairly low on the totem pole as far as professional kitchen jobs go, it does require knowledge of a professional kitchen, as you will often be working opposite hours of the chefs.

A lot of prep cooks, especially those in five star restaurants, start out by going to culinary school. This is not a must of course, as formal education is not a required standard in the restaurant business, although some chefs may require it to work in their kitchens. Most, however simply want someone who is willing to learn, and has a strong passion for food and cooking. Starting out as a prep cook is a good place to begin your career, as if you make a mistake, it won’t ruin service like it might if you were a line cook or other on the spot position in the middle of service.

Catering companies, hotels, and banquet halls have a lot of prep cooks, as do most restaurants where a lot of fresh ingredients are served, so if you’re looking for an entry into the business, these are places to start.  Avoid fast casual places and large chains known for preparing frozen and pre made dishes; while they might have a prep cook, they generally don’t follow the kitchen brigade when it comes to kitchen positions. These types of restaurants don’t have a good reputation in the culinary world in general. Wherever you go, be sure to learn and retain as much as you can; while a prep cook might not seem like the best position in the kitchen, the skills are important to have no matter which station you’re working.

A prep cook will usually get paid an hourly wage, and depending on the establishment, it’s usually slightly higher than minimum wage.

If you have a passion, and a desire to succeed, a job as a prep cook can definitely help jumpstart your career into the culinary world, whether you have an education or not.

More Information about Prep Cooks

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