Many aspiring chefs dream of the day they finish climbing the kitchen ladder and end up at the top: running their own kitchen as the Executive Chef. Young chefs often long for the day that they are the ones that choose the menu and get the glory when someone sends compliments to the chef.
Long Hours & Less Kitchen Time
But did you know that the job of the Executive Chef requires sometimes brutal twelve-hour days? How about lots of meetings, either with individuals planning banquets, or vendors, or even their bosses (for instance, an Executive Chef at a hotel often still answers to the hotel manager)? And what about paperwork? The Executive Chef is responsible for all of a restaurant’s paperwork, including processing bills, staff reviews, and more.
Ironically, an Executive Chef usually spends less time in the kitchen than any other chef. While the Executive Chef may plan the menus—and even create the recipes that are used in his or her restaurant—but it’s the Sous Chef and the Line Chefs are the ones that do the actual cooking. In order to keep his hand in the pot (so to speak) an Executive Chef needs to set aside his other work to get time in the kitchen.
A Typical Day
What is the typical day like for an Executive Chef? A great deal depends on the size of the restaurant. In general, the smaller the restaurant, the longer the work day. If a smaller restaurant serves both lunch and dinner, the Executive Chef may come in to work as early 9 am to begin the day, and not go home until after the dinner rush is over—often after 10 or 11 pm. In larger restaurants, the Executive Chef usually has a day chef to take care of lunch, and instead focuses his or her energy on the dinner meal and doesn’t come in to work until Noon or 1 pm, but often stays longer after the dinner crowd has gone to make preparations for the next day’s meals. In other words, regardless of where an Executive Chef works, he or she is going to work a twelve-hour day.
When the Executive Chef arrives at the restaurant, the first order of the day is greeting the other chefs and employees. After all, managing the staff is an important part of any Executive Chef’s job, and good staff relations are important.
Next on the agenda is making sure the inventory is taken care of—either by doing the ordering his or herself, or by verifying that the Sous Chef has done it. Often an Executive Chef will be thinking over the menus for several days or even a full week at a time when reviewing the inventory. And even if the Sous Chef does most of the inventory work, there is always some element that the Executive Chef feels must be done personally—either visiting the fish market, selecting the produce, or perhaps meeting with that special cheese vendor.
Once the inventory is taken care of, the Executive Chef often calls a staff meeting. At this meeting, the various chefs and cooks “prepare for war,” meaning they go over the day’s menu and make plans for the day.
After Lunch and Dinner Prep
In the afternoon, the Executive Chef often processes paperwork and has meetings, either with staff, bosses, or potential banquet customers. At some point the Executive Chef either cooks a meal for his/herself, or eats something prepared by one of the other chefs. A short break is usually in order right before the dinner rush starts (usually around 5pm). At that point in the day, the Sous Chef usually has things well in hand, and the Station Chefs are finishing up their mis en place (prep work) and everyone is enjoying the calm before the storm.
As soon as the first table of dinner guests arrives, things begin getting into full swing in the kitchen. This is usually the only time of day you will find the Executive Chef actually working with the food—making the specials of the day and often roaring orders at the other chefs in the kitchen. This pace continues until after 9 pm, when the dinner rush begins dying down.
End of Day
Now comes the time of the day when the Executive Chef faces the job he or she dreads the most: paperwork. It’s time to work on staff schedules, pay some bills, answer emails (yes, even an Executive Chef has to answer email), and do other things—such as staff reviews and other managerial duties. Finally, the last customer has left, the station chefs have cleaned up their areas, and the dishwasher has shut down for the day—and now the Executive Chef is preparing to go home for the day. Early the next morning, it all starts again.
Becoming an Executive Chef
An Executive Chef undergoes a great deal of training in order to head up his or her own restaurant kitchen. An Executive Chef usually first earns a degree from a reputable culinary arts school, and then does an internship or apprenticeship that can last as long as three years. If you love the art of cooking, a career as a chef may be the right choice for you! Learn more about the Culinary Arts Education at this website.