It’s definitely one of the hardest hires you’ll make as a restaurateur but can equally be the most rewarding when you get it right.
After all, without a chef, your restaurant isn’t much of a restaurant, is it?
The problem is that finding the right chef is pretty tricky. The average age of head chefs and cooks in the US is around 40 years old, which means they’ve probably got plenty of experience, but just as much demand for their skills.
You therefore need to get in early. But you also need to know what you look for, which is why we’ve put together this guide.
A few handy things to know about chefs
Before you start your chef recruitment drive, let’s consider a few facts about chefs that you probably weren’t aware of.
For instance, did you you know that chefs:
- eat out more than most people;
- are often fiery because they’re relentlessly passionate about their work;
- possess a wide range of knowledge on different food cultures, regardless of their own origin;
- have a higher chance of meeting celebrities than most of us;
- have a favourite knife; and
- enjoy making food for customers (even if they don’t always show it).
Granted, claiming the above as ‘facts’ is probably pushing it a bit, but as you begin interviewing and hiring for your kitchen, you’ll realise that the above traits really are reflected in the best the industry has to offer.
So, let’s consider seven things you need to look out for when hiring a chef.
1. The right - not perfect - temperament 🤬
Let’s get one thing straight - you’re not going to find a chef with a perfect temperament. If we go back to the facts about chefs above, we’re reminded that they’re often fiery and outspoken, simply because they care so much about what they do.
You want some of that, absolutely, but you don’t want too much of it. They key is to find a chef who can deal with pressure. If that’s a character trait you spot immediately, it means they can communicate effectively, no matter what’s happening and not allow the occasion to get to them.
You certainly don’t want a shrinking violet when it comes to a head chef, but you do want someone who can keep stress levels at just the right level.
2. Commitment 🍴
You want this from every member of your kitchen team, of course, but it’s easier to re-hire a sous chef than it is a head chef.
It has been reported that the US restaurant’s turnover rate reached a huge 130.7% during 2020. Therefore, you really do need a team that is fully committed.
If a chef’s employment history is as long as your arm, tread with caution. You need to look for people who clearly hang around and only move on when they feel there’s no ability to further their career in their current role.
3. An attention to detail 🍣
No matter what type of cuisine you offer in your restaurant, you’ll need a chef who is obsessed with the details.
This doesn’t just come into play during the preparation and cooking of food, either - they’ll be tasked with creating menus, working with suppliers, and managing the kitchen team.
Detail-oriented chefs aren’t hard to find, but make sure you ask the right questions. How detailed is their approach to work?
4. Great food 🥘
This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed by how many restaurateurs hire chefs without first trying out their food.
The proof really is in the pudding (or starter, or main, obviously), so make sure you request a selection of dishes from the chef to try out their work. If it means giving them half a day in the kitchen to show you what they can do - even better!
5. An eye for excellence 💯
The best chefs know what excellent food looks and tastes like. It enables them to immediately spot fresh ingredients and work out how to best present their food.
It’s important to look beyond the food, too. Your chef will probably be tasked with recruiting team members for the kitchen, therefore they need to know how to spot excellence in people, as well.
For instance, do they know what a wasteful approach to ingredients looks like? Or how to spot latent talent in a young sous chef? Once again, ask for examples of their work and quiz them on what they look for in team members.
6. A solid grasp of the latest tech 👩🏽💻
Restaurant technology never stands still. Thankfully, many kitchen duties are still carried out with tools and equipment that’s been around for decades.
But there are an increasing number of technologies entering the market which can make your kitchen more efficient, highly productive, and capable of reliving a consistently evolving guest experience.
Ask any prospective chefs what their favourite tech is and, before you speak to them, do some of your own research on emerging kitchen devices, software, and tools. Ask them about those, too.
7. References 👨🏼🍳
This recruitment advice is as old as the hills, but it’s an easy one to forget.
Past references in the restaurant industry are vitally important when building a stellar team. After all, how do you know that the person sat in front of you in the interview room is telling you the truth?
Even if you’re bowled over by their approach to team building and the quality of their food, their employment history, and reasons for leaving prior establishments may be a hidden danger.
We hope this advice helps you find the ideal chef for your venue. If you avoid the temptation to rush and hire on a whim, you should find a healthy list of candidates from which to choose arguably the most important role in your business.