Could you be an Executive Chef for a day?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 127,500 chefs—including head cooks, chefs de cuisine, sous chefs, and private chefs—in the U.S. today employed by restaurants, hotels, private households and other food service facilities. While BLS data shows the group as a whole earns an average annual salary of $41,500, a survey by StarChefs, a culinary magazine, reports the average earnings for those with the title of executive chef is closer to $84,154.
These individuals are the leaders of the kitchens in which they work, acting both as manager and creative director. If you think you might like to join them, let’s take a closer look at the tasks you’ll perform in a typical day on the job.
Your start time each day will depend on the environment in which you work, including the size of the restaurant or hotel and the meals served. Those serving breakfast, lunch and dinner will require the earliest start times and longest shifts. If yours only serves lunch and dinner, you may get a later start but also have to stay long past closing to prepare for the next day. Wherever you happen to work, you may become very familiar with 12-hour shifts.
With so many diverse tasks to tackle, many executive chefs start the day by making a list of everything that must be done and then arranging it in order of priority. First up could be inventory, for without the ingredients needed for the recipes, there won’t be anything to serve to customers. Inventory control may include the review of orders placed by the sous chef or placing of those orders yourself. The cost of supplies must always be considered to avoid going over budget. And every delivery must be inspected for quality and completeness.
Next up may be a staff meeting to go over the day’s specials and anything else that needs to be addressed with the kitchen team. The executive chef is responsible for overseeing and managing the entire kitchen staff, which includes interviewing potential hires and training new team members as well as conducting performance reviews. When warranted, an executive chef may need to dole out disciplinary action or mentor employees he or she feels have talent but need a little extra encouragement or supervision.
For executive chefs, creativity in the kitchen is just as important as administrative skill. When it’s time for new menu items, you’ll need to spend time developing and standardizing recipes as well as design presentation of the finished product. While you’re at it, you’ll need to calculate costs to the dishes can be priced appropriately on the menu. If you work at a restaurant that changes its menu seasonally, or one that offers frequent special dishes, this portion of your job can take a considerable amount of time.
Though many executive chefs don’t get to cook on a day to day basis, they’re still responsible for coordinating the kitchen’s staff and workflow for maximum efficiency as well as overseeing its safety and sanitation. On occasion, you may pitch in with meal prep when the restaurant is short-staffed, particularly busy, or there are special menu items to prepare. Because you’re in charge of presentation, you’ll have to spend time inspecting the dishes prepared by the chefs below you to ensure they are prepared and plated correctly as well.
An executive chef’s day does not always end with the dinner rush. Depending on the size of the restaurant, you may be able to delegate closing duties to your sous chef. If not, you’ll supervise the kitchen cleanup while tackling any administrative tasks you were unable to complete earlier in the day.