Are you aspiring to be an executive chef and you want to know the qualification required? If YES, here is a detailed guide on how to become an executive chef.

What is an Executive Chef?

The executive chef, also known as the head chef or the chef manager, performs the combined duties of a creative and managerial role in the kitchen. The executive chef is the head in a restaurant, bar or hotel kitchen and there is usually only one in a restaurant (or sometimes, across a couple of venues). By tradition, in a kitchen hierarchy, the position of an executive chef represents the highest culinary achievement.

What Skills are Required to Become an Executive Chef?

If you are hardworking and zealous, then you can be rewarded with a promotion. The hospitality industry promotes from within, but you must be very skilled and experienced. Even if your short-term goal is to work as a line cook, it is likely that your broader aspirations point to the Executive Chef position.

In order to get to this apex position, “Kitchen chops” are essential, and you also need to have a very broad understanding of traditional ingredients and recipes. Most times, it is the executive chef that creates and implements the menu in a restaurant in addition to training the member of his staff to prepare the dishes in the menu correctly all the time. The ability to motivate and inspire line cooks to perform at a high level is an intangible attribute an executive chef must possess.

Qualities of a Good Executive Chef

In order to handle these extensive duties, it only makes sense that an executive chef should be experienced in not only effective kitchen administration, but also in the complexities of personnel management, budgeting, food cost control, marketing and other business-related concepts.

Executive Chefs exhibit equal measures of experience and academic discipline within their roles as kitchen bosses. This position can be quite daunting for even the most qualified candidates, and the chef generally answers only to the general manager or property owner.

Even though this position can seem to be glamorous and rewarding, the complement of skills and personal characteristics required to succeed are nonetheless vast in scope. Take a personal inventory of the strengths you bring to the table, and find a good Culinary Arts or Culinary Management Program to set you on your way.

In order to become a good executive chef, you to have a passion for food and cooking in addition to the ability to be creative and innovative. Other important personality traits that you will likely need to get to the status of Executive Chef include:

  • An incredibly strong work ethic
  • Ability to work long work shifts
  • The ability to work well under (sometimes extreme) pressure
  • Great communication skills
  • The ability to manage a team responsibly and fairly
  • Ability to multi-task when the need arise
  • A head for numbers and formulating plans

Job Description of an Executive Chef

The job description of an executive chef differs from kitchen to kitchen, but fundamentals remain universal in most Executive Chef Jobs. As a chef manager, you will be expected to:

  1. Develop and implement menus and meal plans that fit the facility, restaurant, or kitchen needs and goals on a daily basis.
  2. Direct and supervise kitchen operations and designated back of the house staff.
  3. Train all related staff.
  4. Work well as part of a team and contribute to a positive work environment.
  5. Maintain a well-stocked inventory, and exercise wise cost control.
  6. Engage with peers, colleagues and patrons in a manner that invites interaction and feedback.
  7. Assist with long-term plans as they relate to cuisine and overall culinary experience.
  8. Take Responsibility for all food preparation and handling methods
  9. Monitor hygiene and sanitation within kitchen and food-prep environments.

Educational Requirements You Need to Become an Executive Chef

You can get a culinary arts diploma or degree, from a culinary school, chef colleges, trade/technical schools, and some colleges/universities. Going for a degree is a very good option for people who have no prior experience in cooking because most degree programs come with an internship which could help find students employment after graduation.

It will take you 4 years to get a degree in culinary arts, and it is generally more expensive than an associate’s degree, which takes one to two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree program gives you more exposure and cover areas that other methods of becoming a chef may not cover such as;

  • Regional pastry traditions
  • Gastronomy
  • Advanced pastry design
  • Cafe’ operations
  • Contemporary cakes
  • Restaurant law
  • Food purchasing
  • Inventory control
  • Business management classes
  • Marketing concepts

In addition, some coursework will require students to attend field trips that include visits to fisheries, produce locations including farms and farmer’s markets to learn flavors, food sampling, and tasting techniques for various food groups. There are specialized classes in food and wine pairings, dessert gastronomy, and wedding cakes that will enhance a serious chef’s resume.

Master’s level studies are offered in business disciplines, but culinary institutes also offer advanced chef training at this level.

If you have you eyes on become an Executive Chef one day, then you should consider getting an advance degree. Combined with some practical experience, the degree prepares you for kitchen management work, as well as a variety of upper-level hospitality assignments outside the kitchen.

You should however not expect to become an executive chef the instant you get out of school. The post of an executive chef usually comes after a series of promotion that you would have had.

What does the Ladder Look Like?

  1. Commis chef: After you’ve done your apprenticeship or a bit of work experience, commis chef is likely where you will land first. A commis chef is in charge of the groundwork: chopping and preparing, cleaning and looking after equipment, learning from the chefs above you. In some areas and venues, apprentices start out as commis chefs. If you have a bachelor’s degree then you would most likly be overqualified for this position
  2. Chef de Partie: This position is also often known as the line chef. The chef de partie is usually in charge of one section of the kitchen, or one type of food. For instance, they may specialize in pastry, only cook seafood or meat, or be in charge of cold items. This is often the time when chefs decide whether they would like to specialize in a specific area and focus their work and studies there.
  3. Sous Chef: basically, the sous chef is the second in command. They serve as an assistant to the Executive Chef, and not only assist with cooking and preparation, but also scheduling and planning, managing staff, overseeing orders, and working on menu creation.

After the Sous chef comes the Executive Chef! It’s important to remember that each kitchen will run differently, and it is up to the executive chef to share duties in his kitchen on how he deems fit.

Where Do Executive Chefs Work?

Professional kitchens have chef in their employee that work in a wide variety of environments. Think outside the box for opportunities that move you toward your ultimate goal. Executive Chefs can work at:

  • Restaurants – large and small
  • Hotels
  • Corporate facilities
  • Catering companies
  • Casinos
  • Cruise lines
  • Resorts
  • Convention centers
  • Spas
  • Hospitals and medical centres
  • White House et al.

The Average Salary of an Executive Chef

The salary that an executive chef receives will vary depending on a number of factors such as the type of kitchen, location, experience, economic climate, reputation, and education. Upward salary mobility is enhanced by a comprehensive education from a reputable culinary arts educator. Generally Executive Chefs earn between $36,000 to $59,000.

5 Smart Tips That Will Help Your Goal to Become an Executive Chef

Successful Executive Chefs exhibit a series of traits that facilitate performance in the range of disciplines inherent to the position. The job of an executive chef dictates that they should be able to make good judgment and have a problem solving skill set that enables a successful chef to quickly put out fires in the kitchen – literally and figuratively.

Critical thinking is required to analyze menu successes and manage employee strengths. Communication skills must be strong, in written and verbal forms to effectively train staff and shape the direction of the restaurant.

Even though the principles of being an executive chef may come naturally to some people, food fundamentals must be learned; then combined with individual creativity, before menu successes become consistent representations of a chef’s culinary point of view. Here are some tips on becoming an executive chef.

1. Be Safety Conscious: You’ll learn about kitchen safety in your culinary arts program , and you need to reinforce that knowledge by your example. An executive chef must always have safety on his or her mind. You and your staff will spend all day working around potentially hazardous items such as boiling water, hot ovens, and sharp knives. Prove you’re serious about advancing by working safely and ensuring your co-workers are safety conscious, too.

2. Delegate: a bad executive chef will try to be everywhere and try to have a hand in all the activities going on in the kitchen. However, a good chef knows that it will be impossible for him to do everything effectively and as such he mush trust his staff implicitly and be able to delegate important tasks.

Executive chefs are often the mediators between the front and back of the house. This may involve placing the sous chef in charge of the kitchen while they attend to other matters.

3. Possess Contagious Enthusiasm: As an executive chef, your staff will look to you for guidance during stressful hours. Irrespective of how hectic the kitchen may become, your passion should be visible and your enthusiasm contagious.

4. Be a Good Listener: Being in charge of a kitchen isn’t just about delegating. To be successful as a chef, you need to be a good listener, too.

You should ask yourself what aspects of the kitchen work well and which aspects need to be reviewed. Rather than trying to solve all the issues on your own, ask for feedback from your staff as they can give a deeper insight and perspective on the issue.

You should make sure that you have regular meeting with your staff and encourage them to speak their minds freely. Listen carefully to your commis cooks, line cooks, and sous chefs and make changes based on their feedback.

5. Never Stop Learning: as a chef, you must never stop learning new things. Even though your education may include the culinary school, but having a degree doesn’t mean that you have learnt it all. The more experience you gain working in different restaurants, the more your skills in the kitchen will grow.

As an Executive chefs you must be aware of the latest food trends and new developments in kitchen management and safety standards.

Ajaero Tony Martins