Cook Helper Job Description
Cook helpers assist chefs and head cooks with running an efficient, professional kitchen, and also help maintain its cleanliness. They may be employed in various industries, including restaurants, hospitals, and schools and universities. Their tasks range from food prep to cleaning work areas and equipment. A high school diploma or GED is sufficient education for becoming a cook’s helper, as most companies provide short-term on-the-job-training. Employers look for candidates who possess a positive attitude and who are effective at following verbal and written instructions.
Cook Helper Duties and Responsibilities
Cook helpers support the chef or head cook’s efforts to run and maintain the kitchen and prepare and present food that will please diners. Some of the duties involved in this effort include:
A cook helper is primarily responsible for peeling, cutting, and shredding fruits and vegetables, butchering and seasoning meat, and measuring and mixing ingredients. This prep work cuts down the chef’s cook time.
Cook helpers smell, pierce, and taste food to check its doneness and quality. This is an important part of the cook helper’s job because it prevents undercooked or subpar food from being served to customers.
The cook helper keeps the kitchen well stocked, ensuring all necessary items are on hand by making note when stock is low and ordering food and supplies as needed.
Maintaining Work Area and Equipment
Commercial kitchens are held to specific standards of cleanliness with regards to both the work area itself and the equipment that is stored and used within it. A cook helper assists in ensuring compliance with these regulatory requirements is met.
Collecting and Storing Leftovers
Any food that is left over must be properly labeled and stored. This task performed by the cook’s helper is important because improper labeling or storage may result in serving errors and possibly spoilage and customer illness.
Cook Helper Skills and Qualifications
Good customer service skills, the ability to work flexible hours, and at least six months of kitchen experience are preferred qualifications. Employers in this field also look for the following skills in their cook helpers:
- Punctuality – if the cook helper is late, prep work gets delayed, throwing the chef behind schedule and affecting customers’ order wait time
- Mathematic skills – simple math skills are required for cook helpers to measure ingredients and convert and scale recipes
- Interpersonal skills – cook helpers must interact with chefs, management, and other kitchen staff to receive instructions, feedback, and assistance
- Reading skills – the ability to read and comprehend well is necessary for the cook helper to correctly follow recipes
- Flexibility – because they often perform varied tasks day to day or within the same shift and may be required to work alternating shifts, weekends, and holidays, cook helpers must be adaptable
Cook Helper Education and Training
A high school diploma or a GED is the only required education for a cook helper position, but six months to a year of kitchen experience is often preferred by hiring companies. CPR/first aid and food safety certifications are pluses as well.
Cook Helper Salary and Outlook
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report $8.60 to $15.23 as the hourly salary range for a cook helper, with an average hourly salary of $11.84. Average hourly tips of $2.86, overtime pay of $13.12 to $22.89 an hour, and bonuses averaging $300 help increase the pay for this position. Pay raises for cook helpers are sharp for up to the first 10 years, and then pay remains constant.
The BLS forecasts that the growth rate for this job will be average through 2026, increasing 8 percent and adding 68,600 positions to this field.
If you’re ready to enter the food service industry as a cook helper, we’ve compiled a list of resources that can get you started:
Becoming a Culinary Arts Professional: Finding Your Rewarding Career in the World of Food – This book will make entering and advancing in the food service industry easier, as it gives readers insight on job expectations (real life examples included) and how to refine and develop the skills needed to master their role in the kitchen. A job resources appendix and illustrations of some of the key concepts related to kitchen staff, such as cuts of meat and the food pyramid, are also included.
Career Opportunities in the Food and Beverage Industry – Food & Wine editor Kathleen Thompson Hill provides a comprehensive guide for prospective food service workers. From entry level to top positions, she provides readers with key information on over 80 different jobs in this industry. This information includes tips on entering the field, job descriptions, salary ranges, and more.
The American Culinary Federation – Founded in New York City in 1929, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a professional organization for chefs and cooks. The ACF has over 17,500 members and its primary mission is promoting the image of chefs as professionals. This organization accomplishes its mission through educational resources and certification programs.
United States Chef Association – The advisory board of this association for chefs has a combined 300 years of experience in the industry. USCA’s goal is to help chefs advance their careers in an expeditious manner. It helps chefs do so mainly through education. Accredited certification courses offered by USCA include certified executive sous chef, executive chef, and master chef.
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