A first cook acts in a supervisory role in an institutional kitchen, where meals are prepared in large quantity for a population such as students or prisoners. Job requirements for this position vary but generally include at least one year of supervisory experience in a kitchen where food is prepared in quantity, along with culinary training, preferably with a certificate or degree from a culinary school. This work can involve irregular hours, and people spend a lot of time on their feet in hot, chaotic environments.
The first cook may supervise the whole staff or work under another supervisor, depending on how the chain of command is structured in a given workplace. The person working in this role is involved in hiring and firing of personnel, creating schedules, and working with staff who need time off or other workplace accommodations. The first cook usually needs to have a sanitation certification and audits the workplace to make sure people are observing appropriate food safety precautions in addition to setting policies intended to keep the kitchen safe and clean.
In some institutions, the first cook plans the menu, while in others the menu is passed down by supervisors. The first cook must generate ingredient lists to place orders for supplies, plan ahead for producing foods outlined on the menu, and supervise the preparation and safe handling and storage of the food. First cooks can also be involved in determining how to repurpose leftovers and may be required to prepare special meals for people with particular needs, like gluten-free meals or vegetarian meals.
First cooks usually come in early to assess the situation in the kitchen, develop a plan of action for the day, and meet with other kitchen staff like baking and dessert crews. The supervisor assigns tasks to people as they report for work, may engage in some cooking, and also walks the floor in the kitchen to monitor people while they work. If there are concerns or complaints about the kitchen, this staff member may be involved in meetings to resolve the issue. When people aren't actively preparing meals, the first cook is inventorying supplies, placing orders, and training personnel.
This work requires good people skills, as supervisors need to be able to coordinate with their staff. Tolerance for very busy workplaces is critical and multitasking skills are also necessary, as first cooks need to keep track of multiple dishes, employees, and areas of the kitchen while at work.