Head chefs manage the kitchen to oversee the preparation, cooking and service of food.
Includes assistant head chef.
Head chefs typically do the following:
- Control and direct the food preparation process and any other relative activities
- Construct menus with new or existing culinary creations ensuring the variety and quality of the servings
- Approve and “polish” dishes before they reach the customer
- Plan orders of equipment or ingredients according to identified shortages
- Arrange for repairs when necessary
- Remedy any problems or defects
- Be fully in charge of hiring, managing and training kitchen staff
- Oversee the work of subordinates
- Estimate staff’s workload and compensations
- Maintain records of payroll and attendance
- Comply with nutrition and sanitation regulations and safety standards
- Foster a climate of cooperation and respect between co-workers
The following job titles also refer to head chef:
industrial head chef
chef de cuisine
managing partner head chef
head of kitchen
master kitchen manager
Chefs and head chefs work in restaurants, hotels, and other food service establishments. All of the cooking and food preparation areas in these facilities must be kept clean and sanitary. Chefs and head chefs usually stand for long periods and work in a fast-paced environment.
Some self-employed chefs run their own restaurants or catering businesses, and their work may be more stressful. For example, outside the kitchen, they often spend many hours managing all aspects of the business to ensure that bills and salaries are paid and that the business is profitable.
Injuries and Illnesses
Chefs and head chefs risk injury in kitchens, which are usually crowded and potentially dangerous. Common hazards include burns from hot ovens, falls on slippery floors, and cuts from knives and other sharp objects, but these injuries are seldom serious. To reduce the risk of harm, workers often wear long-sleeve shirts and nonslip shoes.
Most chefs and head chefs work full time, including early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Some work more than 40 hours per week.
Chefs and head chefs are typically required to have a high school diploma or equivalent to enter the occupation. Although they are not always required to have postsecondary education, many attend programs at community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, and 4-year colleges.
Students in culinary programs spend most of their time in kitchens, practicing their cooking skills. Programs cover all aspects of kitchen work, including menu planning, food sanitation procedures, and purchasing and inventory methods. Most programs also require students to gain experience in a commercial kitchen through an internship or apprenticeship program.
Chefs and head chefs often start by working in other positions, learning cooking skills from the chefs they work for. Many spend years working in kitchens before gaining enough experience to be promoted to chef or head cook positions.
Some chefs and head chefs train on the job, where they learn the same skills as in a formal education program. Some train in mentorship programs, where they work under the direction of an experienced chef. Executive chefs, head chefs, and sous chefs who work in upscale restaurants often have many years of training and experience. Chefs and head chefs also may learn through apprenticeship programs sponsored by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, or trade unions.
Apprenticeship programs generally combine instruction and on-the-job training. Apprentices typically receive both instruction and paid on-the-job training. Instruction usually covers food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. Apprentices spend the rest of their training learning practical skills in a commercial kitchen under a chef’s supervision.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Head chef is a Skill level 3 occupation.
Head chef career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to head chef.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of head chef. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of head chef with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential knowledge and skills
This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of head chef.
- Food storage: The proper conditions and methods to store food to keep it from spoiling, taking into account humidity, light, temperature and other environmental factors.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of head chef.
- Comply with food safety and hygiene: Respect optimal food safety and hygiene during preparation, manufacturing, processing, storage, distribution and delivery of food products.
- Manage budgets: Plan, monitor and report on the budget.
- Handle customer complaints: Administer complaints and negative feedback from customers in order to address concerns and where applicable provide a quick service recovery.
- Manage staff: Manage employees and subordinates, working in a team or individually, to maximise their performance and contribution. Schedule their work and activities, give instructions, motivate and direct the workers to meet the company objectives. Monitor and measure how an employee undertakes their responsibilities and how well these activities are executed. Identify areas for improvement and make suggestions to achieve this. Lead a group of people to help them achieve goals and maintain an effective working relationship among staff.
- Ensure regular maintenance of kitchen equipment: Guarantee coordination and supervision of cleaning and maintenance of kitchen equipment.
- Set prices of menu items: Fix the prices of main course dishes and other items on the menu. Ensure that they remain affordable within the organisation’s budget.
- Recruit employees: Hire new employees by scoping the job role, advertising, performing interviews and selecting staff in line with company policy and legislation.
- Use food preparation techniques: Apply food preparation techniques including the selecting, washing, cooling, peeling, marinating, preparing of dressings and cutting of ingredients.
- Handle chemical cleaning agents: Ensure proper handling, storage and disposal of cleaning chemicals in accordance with regulations.
- Plan menus: Organise menus taking into account the nature and style of the establishment, client feedback, cost and the seasonality of ingredients.
- Keep up with trends in eating out: Follow trends in cooking and eating out by monitoring a range of sources.
- Assist customers: Provide support and advice to customers in making purchasing decisions by finding out their needs, selecting suitable service and products for them and politely answering questions about products and services.
- Supervise food quality: Oversee the quality and safety of food served to visitors and customers according to food standards.
- Handover the food preparation area: Leave the kitchen area in conditions which follow safe and secure procedures, so that it is ready for the next shift.
- Apply procurement: Undertake ordering of services, equipment, goods or ingredients, compare costs and check the quality to ensure optimal payoff for the organisation.
- Use reheating techniques: Apply reheating techniques including steaming, boiling or bain marie.
- Schedule shifts: Plan staff time and shifts to reflect the demands of the business.
- Use culinary finishing techniques: Apply culinary finishing techniques including garnishing, decorating, plating, glazing, presenting and portioning.
- Manage hospitality revenue: Oversee a hospitality revenue by understanding, monitoring, predicting and reacting to consumer behaviour, in order to maximise revenue or profits, maintain budgeted gross profit and minimise expenditures.
- Maintain a safe, hygienic and secure working environment: Preserve health, hygiene, safety and security in the workplace in accordance with relevant regulations.
- Estimate costs of required supplies: Try to value the amounts and costs of required supplies such as of food items and ingredients.
- Control of expenses: Monitoring and maintaining effective cost controls, in regards to efficiencies, waste, overtime and staffing. Assessing excesses and strives for efficiency and productivity.
- Train employees: Lead and guide employees through a process in which they are taught the necessary skills for the perspective job. Organise activities aimed at introducing the work and systems or improving the performance of individuals and groups in organisational settings.
- Manage stock rotation: Oversee stock levels, paying attention to expiry dates to diminish stock loss.
- Use cooking techniques: Apply cooking techniques including grilling, frying, boiling, braising, poaching, baking or roasting.
- Compile cooking recipes: Organise recipes with regards to taste balance, healthy eating and nutrition.
- Monitor the use of kitchen equipment: Oversee the correct use of kitchen equipment, such as knives, colour coded chopping boards, buckets and cloths.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of head chef. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Manage inspections of equipment: Monitor formal or official viewings and examinations in order to regularly test and inspect property and equipment.
- Identify suppliers: Determine potential suppliers for further negotiation. Take into consideration aspects such as product quality, sustainability, local sourcing, seasonality and coverage of the area. Evaluate the likelihood of obtaining beneficial contracts and agreements with them.
- Cook pastry products: Prepare savoury and sweet pastry products, combining with other products if necessary.
- Upsell products: Persuade customers to buy additional or more expensive products.
- Advise guests on menus for special events: Offer recommendations to guests on meal and drink items available for special events or parties in a professional and friendly manner.
- Think creatively about food and beverages: Generate innovative and creative ideas to come up with new recipes, preparations of food and beverages and new ways to present the products.
- Attend to detail regarding food and beverages: Perform great attention to all steps in the creation and the presentation of a qualitative product.
- Execute chilling processes to food products: Carry out chilling, freezing and cooling operation processes to food products such as fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, catering food. Prepare food products for extended periods of storage or half prepared food. Ensure safety and nutrition qualities of frozen goods and preserve products in accordance with specified temperatures.
- Forecast future levels of business: Predict how the business will perform in future, potential expenditures and revenues to project situations for future periods
- Negotiate supplier arrangements: Reach an agreement with the supplier upon technical, quantity, quality, price, conditions, storage, packaging, send-back and other requirements related to the purchasing and delivering process.
- Plan medium to long term objectives: Schedule long term objectives and immediate to short term objectives through effective medium-term planning and reconciliation processes.
- Create decorative food displays: Design decorative food displays by determining how food is presented in the most attractive way and realising food displays in order to maximise revenue.
- Manage medium term objectives: Monitor medium term schedules with budget estimations and reconciliation on a quarterly basis.
- Manage contract disputes: Monitor issues that arise between the parties involved in a contract and provide solutions in order to avoid lawsuits.
- Check deliveries on receipt: Control that all order details are recorded, that faulty items are reported and returned and that all paperwork is received and processed, according to the purchasing procedures.
- Prepare flambeed dishes: Make flambeed dishes in the kitchen or in front of customers while paying attention to safety.
ISCO group and title
3434 – Chefs
- Head chef – ESCO
- Chefs and Head Cooks : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Head Chef job description template | Workable
- Featured image: By Heather Cowper from Bristol, UK – Camilla Parkner, Head Chef at Basement in Gothenburg, CC BY 2.0