A head chef oversees the way a kitchen operates. In most cases, the staff of the kitchen report either directly to the head chef or to an assistant. Generally, she will also decide what equipment is necessary and what ingredients need to be kept in stock. In some situations, the head chef will create the menu, decide on the specials, and choose the portion sizes and appearance of the meals. In addition, she may be responsible for keeping the cost of the kitchen within a set budget, managing employees, forecasting trends in the restaurant business, and maintaining a safe kitchen according to health codes of the area. Head chefs typically work in restuarants, hotels, catering companies, retirement communities as well as other commercial dining establishments.
Typically, one of the most enjoyable duties for a head chef is creating a menu. She may be responsible for finding and utilizing particular ingredients, depending on the type of restaurant, catering company, resort, spa, private party, or organization where she is working. For example, she may be asked to use only seasonal, local, or organic ingredients. In some cases, she may be asked to prepare a vegetarian menu or a menu using wild game as the meat selection, depending on the overall style of the chef’s employer.
Cost may be a consideration for a head chef in some situations. For example, she may be given a weekly, monthly, or annual budget by her employer. In addition, she may be asked to set a price point for the items on a menu. Sometimes, she may need to do research in the field. For example, if she has decided that a new item should be added to the menu, she may need to find out if other competitive restaurants also offer a similar item, how the competition prices that item, and whether it seems to sell well.
Sometimes a head chef needs a full kitchen staff to help the kitchen run smoothly. In some cases, she may need to hire assistants to cover various aspects of the food preparation. For example, one assistant may be needed for desserts, another for pastas, and a third for side items. Occasionally, she may need to train her employees, laying out her goals and standards. The quality of the food is the ultimate responsibility of the chef; so, if an assistant is not performing adequately, disciplinary measures may be taken by the chef, as well.
Food must be used quickly to ensure it maintains a high quality and does not spoil. In many cases, the head chef is responsible for monitoring the food, ensuring that all the ingredients for the items in the menu are available, and finding the best prices on those ingredients. Sometimes, she may need to analyze whether she purchased too much or not enough of a specific ingredient. In addition, she may need to decide what to do with spoiled, bruised, or low quality food items.
When people eat food prepared by another person, they hope that the health codes will be followed. The head chef is typically responsible for maintaining a safe and clean working environment. In addition, a few other skills that may be useful to her include the ability to do heavy lifting, stand for extended periods of time, read, write, communicate effectively, compute mathematical calculations, and, of course, cook. Though formal education isn't always a requirement, head chefs often have degrees or certificates from culinary schools. Many years of kitchen experience may substitute for education for some employers.