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Executive Chefs

At the top, these chefs are far from occupying a cookie-cutter job

Culinary Arts

Ever wanted to advocate for more organic food or depart from the traditional dining experience for a sophisticated, modern twist? Within the hierarchy of chefs in a kitchen, getting to this position is what motivated cooks strive for.

As the top dog of the kitchen, new executive chefs can gain name recognition, assume control over the creative direction of a restaurant, and manage a number of other responsibilities. Getting to this top post and excelling at it are not for the faint of heart.

So what is the job like for an executive chef? Just as restaurants differ in their size and offerings, the roles, responsibilities, and set of people executive chefs work with and preside over are never the same. Here are some situations showing what executive chefs can do and achieve.

Situation one: executive chef of restaurant

Spearheading the menu direction and managing a kitchen is a big deal. For that reason, it is not uncommon for food- and restaurant-related publications to report on emerging and established executive chefs. Skilled executive chefs have been known to turn lackluster establishments into star categories and transform good restaurants into classics.

A typical day in the shoes of an executive chef starts early. Before the customers even arrive, usual activities might include refining menu offerings to suit seasonal ingredients, concocting the specials of the day with sous chefs or line cooks, and consulting with the restaurant’s sommeliers and pastry chefs to perfect the complete gustatory experience from start to finish. They also may talk over inventory issues and menu pricing with the restaurant manager. When the customers arrive, executive chefs kick into high gear, problem-solving to smooth over issues in the kitchen and making sure that the small components of each dish consistently hit quality standards.  

Overall, there’s no slacking off when it comes to work schedules. Regardless of their command position, executive chefs put in long hours and commonly leave late at night.

Situation two: executive chef and restaurateur

In some instances, executive chefs with ample experience advance to the next step: opening their own restaurant and acquiring the title of restaurateur.

Many restaurateurs are not necessarily chefs. But executive chefs with business acumen are prime candidates for starting new restaurants. Oftentimes executive chefs-turned-restaurateurs worked as executive chefs or chefs de cuisine at other establishments, gaining many years of experience working for others before taking the helm of a brand-new ship. This experience is important. No longer is the job just about directing the food: they design the experience from the ground-up.

Being successful isn’t easy. A restaurant, essentially a hospitality business, encompasses the service delivering the meal, the space around the customer, and the business behind the establishment, too. Regardless of the size of the envisioned establishment, restaurateurs need to have a good grasp on kitchen organization, restaurant location, service and floor management, décor and business operations. 

To start, restaurateurs must secure the funding needed to start the business, sometimes involving making a pitch to potential investors. Also important is finding a suitable space for the establishment, since the number of seats in one space accommodating paying customers is a large part of the fundamental business plan. Branding, which is coming up with the personality of the restaurant and advertising it to the public, is also important when establishing a unique presence in the community. With the interior design, features such as lamp fixtures, carpeting, tabletops, chairs and barstools all flavor the customer experience. There’s also buying kitchen equipment, finding the food suppliers and hiring the right sous chefs and line chefs that fit in with the restaurant’s mission. Assembling the right people into a team also includes the hiring of kitchen workers, management heads, and wait staff. Service is considered by many to be the “face” of the restaurant.

Executive chefs who open new restaurants often feel imbued with a sense of purpose, excitement, and nerve-wracking jitters. It’s easy to see why: for some, opening a restaurant is a life-long dream.

Situation three: executive chef, restaurateur, owner of restaurant group

It takes hard work and talent to become an executive chef, and only some executive chefs have the chops to become successful restaurateurs. Rarer still are executive chefs-turned-restaurateurs who, once tasting the success of their first own enterprise, go on to establish multiple buzz-worthy restaurants.

What makes this any different? There’s a lot of work involved with restaurant pre-opening operations, including the investor pitch, restaurant design and hiring stint. This time, however, the operation gets bigger: insert more business people to help make the money work and, as a milestone of sorts, an even larger kitchen staff, including a new set of head chefs. After all, executive chefs can’t cook in two kitchens at once.

Once executive chefs open a restaurant, or even several, the task of establishing a unique image is never complete. Great chefs and restaurateurs always ensure that the experience they provide is fresh, high-quality and relevant, from the aprons worn by staff to the desserts on the menu. The bottom line of any restaurant’s success is making the customer happy.