Whether you’re just starting your journey to becoming a chef or a well-seasoned master, it’s never too late to find ways to better yourself. Head chefs are often the leaders in their kitchen and in their back of house and are expected to execute a flawlessly running kitchen as well as a trend-setting menu. So how do you continue to keep your restaurant afloat and increase your skill set? We gathered some of the top tips for executive chefs, head chefs, and line cooks looking to better themselves from around the web and are sharing them with you!
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Understand the Numbers
“If you can’t cost a dish out in your head within fifteen to twenty seconds — you aren’t a chef. I truly believe that. This indicates that you clearly haven’t spent enough time costing out menus, mastering recipes and plating dishes. You need to know how much each plate of food costs, so that you can then price out a menu. But, that’s only part of the numbers — you need to be able to standardize recipes, cost out labor, manage inventory, try to cut back on inventory when times are tight, and the list goes on and on.”
Communication is Key
“A well-run kitchen is much like a winning sports team. If there isn’t constant chatter then be prepared to fail. On the line there can be 3 or more working on the one table, it all needs to come out at once so being clear is important. It’s not just the line you have to worry about but inventory too. If you forget to mention that we’re low on eggs then it’s going to be an expensive dash out the door hunting for eggs to buy.”
“As an executive chef, you have to be a great communicator. As the leader of a kitchen, you are in charge of how the whole operation is running. This means you have to negotiate with suppliers, keep your back of house staff on the ball, and liaise with front of house too.”
“When cooking, time is everything. Food that’s ordered must be scheduled, then prepared in minutes. Time management is crucial, and this means really paying attention to how you utilize your minutes and seconds after an order is received. With proper planning, you can have a highly effective kitchen, reducing stress for everyone and keeping diners full and satisfied…. Great chefs are great planners. They think ahead and plot out everything they are going to do from cooking to the financial responsibilities of running a kitchen. These are essential skills in cooking and management, since poor planning can result in disaster. The best chefs know exactly what and how much ingredients they need, where all of their utensils are located, how they will pace themselves during crunch time, and what they can do to make the day as efficient as possible. Chef Isaac says to be a leading chef you must be able to manage a P&L statement and budget as well as understand how to make and save money.”
Embrace Creativity and Innovation
“Many people probably associate culinary innovation with unusual flavor combinations or architectural arrangements of ingredients. All that is true. And yet, there is a more fundamental creativity that goes into any restaurant. I remember one chef who was head of operations for multiple restaurants in a major metropolitan museum. He constantly looked for new ways to efficiently prepare individual meals, as he was responsible for banquets for as many as several hundred people, all of whom expected formal service. I remember a single length of sausage at least six feet long we prepared for a breakfast, which could be cooked all at once, and then cut into individual servings. The chef also converted a cart into a smoker to make smoked salmon for a third of the market price. These are great examples of someone who had mastered classic techniques and then improved upon them for a given operation.”
Problem Solving Skills
“The saying that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong? That’s totally about chefs. “Any day of the week you have a cook that calls in sick, is in jail, doesn’t show up, got hurt and needs to go to the hospital, comes in hung over,” says Seamus Mullen, chef-owner of Tertulia, El Comado and El Comado Butchery in New York City. “On top of that your produce guy confuses Seamus Mullen with Shea Gallante and you get the wrong order. Add to that you come in and the sink is leaking and the toilet in the downstairs bathroom is backed up and it’s flooding and the porter didn’t take your garbage. Every day is a crisis.”
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