A prep cook is one who works for a restaurant, caterer, or other food service establishment, doing preparatory work for the chef. A prep cook is an entry-level job, and it often falls to one who is an aspiring chef, or who is still attending a culinary school. It can be a great way to get experience in the kitchen, learning about preparatory work and how to prepare dishes, as well as how to use various pieces of equipment in the kitchen.
As a general rule, a prep cook does not generally do much actual cooking. Instead, the bulk of the prep cook's time at work is spent preparing foods to be cooked by the head chef or other senior chefs. This generally includes tasks such as chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes and other fruits and vegetables, washing food items to be used for cooking, and slicing foods as needed. This way, the chef can simply take the prepared foods and use them in a dish without needing to stop and slice or cut anything.
A prep cook may also prepare dishes such as salads, breads, or items such as salad dressing or sauces. He or she may also be responsible for taking food items in and out of the freezer and refrigerator, and making sure the foods that need to be covered and put away are taken care of. This job generally does not require much kitchen clean-up or maintenance, which is usually the responsibility of a dishwasher or other maintenance employee.
A prep cook generally has a fairly low salary and may work unpredictable hours based on the needs of a restaurant. Many restaurants are open quite late, and all of the cooks must generally stay until closing time. This type of job and late hours often works well for those who are still in school, however, because one can attend class during the day and then go to work in the restaurant at night.
Someone who succeeds as a prep cook may be able to be promoted to a junior chef within a period of time, particularly if one is very familiar with the menu offered at the restaurant as well as the policies. It is important for prep cooks to be able to work quickly and efficiently, and to maintain excellent levels of personal hygiene. It is also important that one be able to work well with others in a fast-paced atmosphere, and to take direction and learn from constructive criticism.