Lead Cook Job Description
Lead cooks prepare food and assist in managing other back-of-the-house workers. They find employment in a variety of food service establishments, such as restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, and residential care facilities. The amount of supervisory duties taken on by lead cooks varies by each organization’s leadership structure. The position often is considered a stepping stone to becoming a kitchen manager or a chef.
Hours vary depending on when the dining facility is open. Lead cooks often spend a great deal of time on their feet as they make food and move around the kitchen to oversee others. The environment can be very warm because of all the cooking going on. During busy times, lead cooks need to be able to handle the stress of a fast-paced workplace.
Lead Cook Duties and Responsibilities
Part food preparer, part manager, lead cooks handle a variety of concerns related to satisfying diners. Our analysis of job postings shows the following duties as some of the most central to being a lead cook:
As the name implies, cooking is critical to a lead cook position. Lead cooks prepare dishes for consumption, usually following the institution’s pre-established recipes and menu. They may alter ingredients to better serve the tastes and dietary needs of specific diners. Lead cooks may take charge of a certain area, such as the grill, or handle the main entry while others work on accompanying edibles.
Running the Kitchen
Especially in large kitchens, many different employees handle food-related tasks. Some may be in charge of chopping, while others gather finished items to put onto plates. Lead cooks help organize the process so that everything runs smoothly. Actions may include time management so that all members of a party receive their meals at the same time, assigning tasks as orders come in, inspecting the presentation before waitstaff delivers food, determining the break schedule so that the kitchen remains sufficiently staffed at all times, and monitoring the workstations of lower cooks for cleanliness.
Lead cooks need to be well versed in food safety and proper handling procedures. They abide by best practices and instruct others on issues such as cleaning ingredients, slicing techniques, equipment maintenance, utensil sanitizing, proper refrigeration, heating requirements, hand washing, preventing cross-contamination, spoilage, disposal, and pest control. Lead cooks may be called upon to supervise kitchen clean up at the end of the day.
Lead Cook Skills
At the heart of being a lead cook is the ability to make food that others want to eat. In addition to culinary skills, however, hiring managers like to see evidence of the following when hiring for lead cook positions:
- Communicating clearly so that others in the kitchen understand expectations and exactly what to do
- Showing commitment to food safety because no employer wants diners to become ill or the establishment to be closed because of issues
- Focusing on teamwork in order to maintain operational flow and workplace morale
- Multitasking to perform various cooking and managing duties at the same time
Lead Cook Tools of the trade
As might be expected, food preparers such as lead cooks need to be familiar with a variety of items as they go about performing their duties. Some of the most common things include:
- Cookware – lead cooks choose the best pot, pan, skillet, or other cooking device based on what they are preparing and the quantity desired
- Cooking utensils – spoons, ladles, whisks, tongs, spatulas, vegetable peelers, and other gadgets used while cooking to mix, stir, or transfer ingredients
- Measuring cups/spoons – used to measure the precise amount of an ingredient called for in a recipe
- Cutting boards – wood or plastic surfaces on which to cut foods
- Cutlery – knives chosen based on the food that needs cutting
- Appliances – stoves, electric mixers, blenders, food processors, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other electronic devices
- Digital thermometer – used to ensure meat and other items are cooked to the proper temperature
- Aprons – worn to protect clothing from being stained by food
- Oven mitts/potholders – protective cloth or other material worn or used when removing cookware from the oven or other heated surfaces
- Orders – written accounts of what meals patrons have selected and any special instructions for preparation
Lead Cook Education and Training
The majority of lead cooks are high school graduates who went on to post-secondary studies in culinary arts at a vocational school or junior college in order to obtain a certificate or an associate’s degree. To increase job prospects, aspiring lead cooks should consider completing the ServSafe food and beverage safety-training program administered by the National Restaurant Association. Many lead cooks begin their careers in lesser cooking positions and work their way up at a company since employers oftentimes prefer to hire from within.
Lead Cook Resources
As you continue to explore the possibility of becoming a lead cook, the following organizations and books can be helpful:
National Restaurant Association – This established trade organization is a go-to place for everything restaurant related. Check out its career section (which, incidentally, notes that half of all American adults have worked in the restaurant industry) for the latest on job outlooks, education, and professional development.
American Culinary Federation – This organization, established in 1929, has grown to include more than 17,500 members. Its website features cutting-edge trends and techniques, certification information, job postings, and more. Aspiring lead cooks can even get their résumés reviewed.
Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food with Advice from Top Culinary Professionals – As one reviewer put it, “If you are searching for your niche in the food service industry, this book is a great place to start.” Filled with interviews and insights, readers are treated to a first-hand glimpse of what each job truly entails on a daily basis.
ServSafe Coursebook – Now in its seventh edition, this definitive book on food safety training provides lead cooks with information needed to do their job correctly.
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