The work of a chef is multifaceted and requires a wide range of skills and competencies. This interview with a head chef highlights the primary tasks and critical competencies for being a chef. Obviously, a chef's job is to prepare food tasty enough to continue attracting and retaining customers. To achieve this goal, the chef needs to be aligned with the core values of the restaurant owner. With a shared vision, the chef can help create a team of qualified kitchen personnel that collaborate to create menu items. The chef is the commander of the kitchen on multiple levels: as leader of a team of employees, as chief technician, and as creative visionary whose expertise informs a menu that offers competitive advantage.
Therefore, a lot of different types of skills comprise the actual work of being a professional chef. The head chef is the manager of the kitchen and the work of the chef is managerial as well as technical and creative in nature. A professional kitchen is a high-pressure environment, hours are long, and deadlines are tight. The chef needs to be aware of everything from safety and health hazards to how to deal with customer complaints. Although the chef is the head of a team of other kitchen staff, and must delegate authority for specific tasks, ultimately the chef needs to have core competencies in all the tasks that are relegated to other members of the kitchen. It is important to point out that the interview subject mentioned the difference between a head chef and a head cook. A head chef is a leader and creative force in the kitchen. The head cook is a technician with strong managerial skills. While there is some overlap, a chef is called upon to do everything the head cook does but more. Core tasks and competencies gleaned from the interview data are as follows.
Task and Competency Statements
1. Must remain aware of food safety and health guidelines while running the kitchen at all times. Food must be stored properly, thrown out when necessary, and cooked properly. Moreover, the kitchen must be cleaned thoroughly on a daily basis with more intensive cleaning sessions weekly, monthly, and more. The chef needs to be aware of city ordinances, bylaws, and national food safety guidelines. The chef also needs to be aware of the food inspection process, and how to train all employees in proper food safety and handling.
2. Chef must be aware of the science of food including the behaviors of acids vs. oils, the behaviors of each type of food under different cooking conditions, and the basic nutritional values of foods.
3. Working with other members of the restaurant team, the chef must continually reinvent the menu, collaborating with colleagues on new dishes based on seasonal ingredients and local tastes. Being aware of cutting-edge food trends helps to keep the restaurant viable. To remain profitable, the restaurant must anticipate trends and maintain customer loyalty.
4. Although the kitchen assistants and technicians help with many of the technical duties of being a chef, the chef must have already mastered skills like knifing and food preparation. Competency must be at the level at which the chef can continually train new staff. Chef needs to learn new technical skills to keep up with market trends, and also master new kitchen technologies.
5. Leadership and managerial skills are critical to being a chef. The chef will delegate tasks on a daily basis. The chef must listen closely to staff, assigning duties to the person most qualified for that particular job. Although the chef must be confident and decisive, the chef must also have good communications skills and the ability to motivate and empower others.
6. The daily work of a chef is physically demanding. Heat and other uncomfortable working conditions, coupled with long hours, can be tough on anyone. Likewise, the chef works under tight deadlines with critical time constraints. The chef needs to work well under pressure.
7. The chef needs inventory management and procurement skills. Sometimes the chef will need to procure foods directly from wholesalers, such as fishermen. At other times, the chef will need to be aware of the wholesale food market and what products to by, when, and from where.
8. Although the chef typically does not work directly with customers, the chef does need to acknowledge customer needs, special requests, and complaints. The chef may need to be willing to adapt menu items to suit customers with special dietary needs or tastes.
Comparisons to "Actual" Job Analyses
Other than an interview with an existing chef, the means by which to acquire information about the job is to search for openings....
Each restaurant or company will frame their job description differently, because each restaurant has different needs in their chef. Some want a chef who will take control of the direction the restaurant takes, designing the entire menu from scratch, and participating in executive level decisions. Other restaurants will have prefabricated menus designed by a distant corporate office, and will require much less input and involvement of their head chef. Depending on the chef's personality, inclinations, and goals, some workplace environments will be more suitable to the individual than others. It helps to read multiple job analyses related to chef to ascertain how the job tasks and competencies may vary.
The Career Planner (2013) blends the duties of head chef and head cook. In this sense, the Career Planner (2013) job analysis is weak because it does not distinguish adequately enough between what it means to be a chef vs. A head cook. Other sources do differentiate between the two positions, noting that a chef is "the kitchen boss," ("Chef or Cook," n.d.). The Career Planner (2013) job analysis also does not accomplish some of the primary goals of a proper job analysis, which serves as "an outline of how the job fits in to the company," ("How to Write a Job Analysis and Description," n.d.). In other words, it is important not to generalize too much when writing a job description. It is more useful to examine specific job listings calling for chefs. One website indicates that the job prospects for chefs are "expected to grow," which should be comforting to most job seekers in this sector ("Chef or Cook," n.d.). One of the strengths of going beyond the interview is discovering what types of educational or professional backgrounds may be requisite ingredients to becoming a chef. The Association of College Unions International (2014) notes that executive chefs should "possess a bachelor's degree or related culinary degree with eight or more years of industry and culinary management experience." However, each employer will have different requirements. Some chefs may be entrepreneurs and own their own restaurants.
The summary of the job listed on the Career Planner (2013) website is as follows, "Direct the preparation, seasoning, and cooking of salads, soups, fish, meats, vegetables, desserts, or other foods. May plan and price menu items, order supplies, and keep records and accounts. May participate in cooking." The Career Planner (2013) list resembles the tasks and competencies outlined in the interview. However, there are a few extra details in the job analysis from Career Planner (2013), including estimations of costs, recruitment, and negotiations.
The Importance of the Job Analysis
Conducting a job analysis was interesting, engaging, and fun, especially during the interview process. According to the United States Office of Personnel Management (2014), "Job analysis is the foundation for all assessment and selection decisions," and "to identify the best person for the job, it is crucial to fully understand the nature of that job." By interviewing a chef, one learns more about the daily life of the chef than simply be reading about one or watching a chef on television. The cult of celebrity chefs has also led to a distorted vision of the job, noted the interview subject. At the end of the day, the chef is often doing dirty work, cleaning a lot, dealing with surly customers or unruly employees.
Competencies can also change rapidly, depending on the changes taking place in the marketplace, the changing tastes of consumers, or the changes in the owner's vision of the restaurant. It is helpful to have a thorough job analysis, replete with information online as well as first-hand knowledge of tasks and competencies, because any prospective chef will understand what is expected. The prospective chef will not need to waste time applying for positions or roles unsuitable to the personality, and likewise, employers will discourage unqualified candidates from applying. On the other hand, chefs with a strong command of their profession will immediately know whether a given position is right for them. Chefs who want to play an active role as the "kitchen boss," creating new menu items rather than simply executing other people's, will likely be best suited for the job in most cases. I have learned mostly that it is important to read each job description, to make sure the…
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