Prep Cook Job Description
Working in restaurants and other facilities that offer food service, such as schools and hospitals, Prep Cooks are kitchen helpers who perform a wide variety of tasks, ranging from preparing ingredients and basic cooking to cleaning kitchen surfaces and mopping floors. In this entry-level position, workers lean an array of kitchen skills, recipes and the regulations required to advance in the culinary field.
Prep Cooks work under the direction of more senior members of a kitchen’s staff, such as a Sous Chef. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, demand for food preparation workers is due to increase by 4 percent through 2022, creating more than 26,000 job openings available each year.
Prep Cook Duties and Responsibilities
In order to best serve the needs of the kitchen, Prep Cooks must perform a series of duties in a timely and professional manner. Here we’ve compiled a list of the primary tasks a Prep Cook is charged with, based on our analysis of several job postings.
Prep Cooks are in charge of preparing cold foods, including vegetables, salads and fruits. This includes preparing these ingredients for more complicated recipes – such as chopping onions, peeling potatoes and crushing garlic – which are then cooked by the more experienced chefs in the kitchen.
Clean and Maintain Kitchen
As entry-level workers, Prep Cooks are often called upon to handle tasks like mopping floors, washing dishes, cleaning equipment or sanitizing workstations. This enables the more experienced chefs to focus their full energy on getting dishes out to customers as quickly as possible.
Provide Customer Service
Prep Cooks sometimes work with wait staff and customers to address their concerns, such as mistakes made on a person’s order, quickly preparing a minor replacement dish, such as a salad, or conveying any more complicated issues to the rest of the kitchen staff.
Stock the Kitchen
Organizing, stocking and dating newly delivered ingredients are important tasks for Prep Cooks. This ensures no time is wasted on the part of the kitchen staff when trying to locate key ingredients, as well as ensuring that the ingredients most readily available are the ones closest to expiration.
Prep Cooks are often asked to record and report the status of various ingredients. This includes letting management know when the kitchen is running low on supplies. They also must ensure the chef’s preparation requirements and production schedules are met, so the kitchen can run at maximum efficiency.
Prep Cook Skills
Successful Prep Cooks thrive in a fast-paced environment, where they may have to address multiple tasks or issues simultaneously. They complete each task as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality or safety. They enjoy working with their hands, preparing food and helping out with various kitchen duties. In some cases, they must also employ people skills to ensure their customers and co-workers have a pleasant experience.
Core skills: Based on job listings we looked at, employers want Prep Cooks with these core skills. If you want to work as a Prep Cook, focus on the following.
- Following orders promptly and efficiently
- Being able to spend hours on your feet, in places of extreme heat or cold
- Knowing state and federal regulations regarding safe food handling
- Managing stress
- Learning new skills quickly
Advanced skills: While most employers did not require the following skills, multiple job listings included them as preferred. Add these to your Prep Cook toolbox and broaden your career options.
- Previous kitchen experience.
- Have a current food handler’s permit.
Prep Cook Q & A
Do you aspire to be a Chef? The journey toward realizing that goal will likely include working as a Prep Cook, an often entry-level kitchen job generally tasked with preparing foods to be cooked by a senior member of the kitchen staff. We talked to Cook and Writer Kim Brauer, who left a career in teaching to attend culinary school, to find out more about what it’s like to be a Prep Cook. Here’s what she had to say.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a Prep Cook?
Often we’re the last ones to experience people enjoying the food we produce, so the rewards that motivate us day-to-day tend to be more process-oriented, such as beating the time a task took us yesterday; banging through our prep list efficiently; noticing our knife skills have improved; getting an interesting new prep task and learning to master it; or being part of a professional kitchen crew.
What is the biggest challenge faced by Prep Cooks?
Time: the clock is always against you. Also, a big error on a lengthy prep item – charring a long braise, burning the rice, roasting something to death – can blow up your best time management plan, and if the restaurant has to 86 a dish because you’ve hosed one of the components, you’re in big trouble.
What skills do you use every day?
Time management, organization, attention to detail, working clean, focus, problem solving, killer work ethic and self-motivation. When things get rough, checking your ego and keeping a sense of humor. And all the actual culinary skills, from remembering to taste as you go, to mastering an exact brunoise, to knowing from feel how far to par-cook the risotto, to consistently making a thick and luscious anglaise.
Who succeeds in this job?
Ideal prep cooks are focused, don’t mind repetition and thrive on pushing themselves to improve incrementally all the time to become both fast and accurate. They are able to multi-task effectively, and are masters of time management.
How should someone prepare for a career as a Prep Cook?
You learn it by doing it. To prepare, put on a clean shirt, go into a restaurant in that lull between lunch and dinner, talk to the chef and say you want to be a prep cook and you’ll work for free for two days to show you’re a hard worker. If that chef says yes, then show up on time, work your butt off, clean constantly, ask for instruction when you need it, ask for more work whenever you finish something, and then you’re on your way to learning – through repetition and hard work – how to be a Prep Cook.
Are there any misconceptions people have about being a Prep Cook?
Line Cooks often think that Prep Cooks are less skilled, or that a prep position is easier. In some kitchens, prep is the entry-level role, and anyone who develops skill is eventually promoted into a line cook position. But in lots of other kitchens, the Prep Cooks are often more skilled, have a greater range of responsibility and independence, and prefer the time management of prep cooking to the insane rushes and lulls of line cooking.
Prep Cook Resources
We’ve searched the internet and found more resources to help you explore a career in the culinary arts as a Prep Cook. From cook books to organizations of experienced professionals, this list provides resources for both the aspiring cook and the professional chef alike.
On the Web
Fine Cooking – A culinary website with a wide variety of recipes, videos, and advice for aspiring and professional cooks. Based off a series of shows and their own cooking magazine.
The Culinary Cook – A cooking website which focuses both on recipes and specialized ingredients. Also includes a variety of articles, links to related eBooks and even a series of basic cooking classes for beginning cooks.
Cooking Channel – This television channel’s website includes advice from some of the best chef’s in the business and what additional skills Prep Cooks can improve on in order to further build up their own culinary careers.
Thanksgiving.com – A great organization for anyone looking to bulk up on their holiday recipes. This site hosts tools for meal planning and an extensive library of recipes.
Cooking with Caitlin – A food-centered company focused on employing creative ideas with classic flavor combinations and typical ingredients. A useful resource for both the beginner and experienced chefs. A widely expanded operation, with a blog, Twitter feed, and YouTube presence, for the visual learners.
National Restaurant Association – With a membership of more than 500,000 restaurants, the National Restaurant Association is the largest food service trade group in the world.
Prep Cook Books
The Professional Chef – Food Arts magazine named this book one of the five best culinary books of the decade. This classic kitchen reference is used to understand standards of quality and basic skills required in building a culinary career. This book has something for every cook, from the beginner to the advanced practitioner.
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of the America’s Most Imaginative Chefs – This book compiles the advice of dozens of accomplished chefs to gather new and exciting ways to season your ingredients for the best possible flavors. With thousands of ingredient combinations, you are surely to find some new flavor combinations to add some additional flavor to your dishes.
The Science of Good Cooking – A powerful compilation of recipes, core principles, and illustrations taken by the editors of the culinary publication, Cook’s Magazine. This book contains more than 400 recipes ranging from basic to complex, and serious to playful.
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