A chef is a professional cook who is able to prepare, cook and present a wide variety of foods efficiently and according to industry standards. They can be employed in restaurants, hotels, hospitals, clubs, correctional institutions, catering companies and educational institutions and so on.
Yet there is a very complex ranking system amongst chefs. There is the commis (a basic chef in larger kitchens who has recently graduated from culinary school), the chef de partie (otherwise known as the line cook who is in charge of a particular area of production, the sous chef (the second in command in the kitchen) and the executive or head chef.
The word “chef” is borrowed from the French term chef de cuisine, otherwise known as the head of the kitchen. And that’s exactly what a head, or executive chef is — chief of the kitchen.
Head chefs oversee the operations of a kitchen, including staff, food preparation and all cooking activities. Contrary to popular belief, executive chefs actually do very little cooking (they’ve already done that working their way up the kitchen ranks). It’s generally the line cooks, who are less experienced, who do the actual cooking according to the executive chef’s instructions.
A lot of their time is devoted to researching trends in the food industry, planning and creating menus, budgeting and financial planning as well as recruiting and hiring staff, instructing cooks (line cooks are the ones that do the actually cooking) in preparations, cooking, garnishing and presentation of food as well as meeting quality standards. Other duties that may come as surprise include representing the restaurant publicly and marketing it, establishing good relationships with suppliers.
Aside from having exemplary culinary skills, executive chefs must have good communication skills, time management skills, leadership skills and basic accounting skills in order to run a kitchen successfully. Chefs must be able to perform physically demanding tasks involving long hours of standing.