Top 5 Chef Skills for Successful Executive Chefs

Top 5 Chef Skills for Successful Executive Chefs

When it comes to the top 5 chef skills needed to be a successful executive chef we’ve got you covered!

Being an executive chef is the highest-level role in the kitchen. You’ll report into the owner or MD and from an org chart point of view sit alongside the company’s HR, finance and commercial directors.

It’s your job to keep a bird’s eye view on the success and profitability of the venue you oversee – while also juggling the overall management and performance of the kitchen. Indeed, you might also be responsible for overseeing multiple venues.

While there’s been a softening of working hours in the industry, it’s still a busy, responsible position that can see you working long days.

So, how do you get to the level of executive chef? Aside from a strong work ethic. Let’s recap the hard skills of the job. But then, importantly, take a closer look at the softer skills needed to become a great executive chef, and enjoy long term success in the role.

Chef skills – What hard skills should an executive chef have?

Most executive chefs have worked their way through the ranks.

It is common to have 7-8 years of previous related experience.  If you include the time taken to complete a relevant culinary arts or hospitality degree, 11 to 13 years is a realistic time frame to becoming an executive chef.

Other typical hard skills executive chefs possess and hiring managers look for on a CV when recruiting at this level include:

  • Proven experience as a Head Chef.
  • Excellent record of kitchen management.
  • Experience of hiring, training, mentoring and supervising kitchen staff.
  • Budget and margin management experience.
  • Creating menus and determining prices that deliver profitability.
  • Ability to spot and resolve problems efficiently.
  • Capable of delegating multiple tasks.
  • Communication and leadership skills.
  • Keeping up with cooking trends and best practices.
  • Delivering sanitary, safe kitchen spaces.
  • Ensuring staff follow health and safety regulations.
  • Identifying and contributing improvements to processes and procedures.
  • Consistently delivering outcomes that follow a company’s quality standards.

Chef skills – What soft skills should an executive chef have (and why)?

Soft skills include behaviours and attitudes, interpersonal and social skills. It is often said that while hard skills typically get you hired, it’s the soft skills that dictate your career rise.

Here are five top soft skills that are must-haves for all successful executive chefs:

Chef skills 1: Communication

Communication is the number one soft skill executive chefs should have. Good communicators can listen well, communicate appropriately and build relationships.

The kitchen is a busy, chaotic environment. If staff aren’t communicating it can make the difference between customers getting their orders on time or not and everything in between. Proper communication also helps alleviate the natural divide that can occur between your front and back of house.

As executive chef you set the tone and tempo of the kitchen. If you cultivate clarity and patience, staff will model this behaviour. If you bark orders to get things done, your team will follow suit.

Your kitchen team and servers are the ones that know the pulse of the business. Encouraging open and honest feedback regularly about how things can be improved end up benefiting your daily operations in ways you haven’t considered.

Book to read:
Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond by Jay Sullivan.

2: Leadership

As an executive chef you are responsible for the profitability of the kitchen which depends on making sales. In a busy restaurant, there’s a million things that need addressing at any moment. If your staff require constant managing and coaching, they’re costing you time, which is costing money.

It’s vital in this role to lead, delegate and motivate. You will need to create an environment where trust, initiative, and taking (calculated) risks are rewarded. Staff members who take the initiative and are self-starters are an asset to any business. It’s important that you show clear leadership and trust that your staff are able to keep the front – or back – of house humming along without a hitch.

Executive chefs have to make quick and often tough decisions but it’s part of the job and one you must be prepared to excel in.

Book to read:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John Maxwell.

Chef skills 3: Organising the detail

Small details mean everything in a commercial kitchen, so a focus on organisational skills is important. Planning, prioritising and achieving your goals for your kitchen as a cohesive team will save valuable time and money.

It’s important to teach and train kitchen staff to deliver in your workspace, so they can maximise their efficiency and delivery.

Staff can’t develop organisational skills without feedback. So keeping a watchful eye on team members and how they manage their time, priorities and responsibilities is vital.

If they are experiencing difficulty, it’s important to guide them to set goals and have clear action plans on shift. Your head chef will play an active role in doing this, but it’s imperative that you are as well-informed about team strengths and weaknesses as they are.

Book to read:
Managing People in Commercial Kitchens: A Contemporary Approach By Charalampos Giousmpasoglou & others.

4: Collaborating

A strong kitchen team who share the same vision and commitment to realising it is vital for any successful kitchen. 

Executive chefs should create and maintain a collaborative environment for all kitchen staff. Celebrating collaboration in a positive way (when it happens in your team) is a quick win and way to embed the importance of this soft skill in your kitchen’s culture.

Book to read:
The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team by John Maxwell.

Chef skills 5: Willingness to learn and creating a learning culture

People who are open to learning are adaptable, which is a must in the hospitality industry where no two days or two hours are rarely the same.

Good leaders should promote a learning culture. Staff are more encouraged to learn when they are exposed to inspiring people, because this shows them how far they could go.

An executive chef who promotes an always learning philosophy is more likely to be able to create a positive, collaborative working atmosphere and sense of can do, not can’t do throughout their team.

This approach will also improve employee retention and increase the chances of nurturing talent to promote from within – especially important in an industry that has a chronic short of available chef talent.

As an executive chef you should look to provide your team with resources that will help them pursue their own learning. Workshops, a break room learning library, field trips and shadowing team members are all things that can help improve knowledge and skills, with the added and proven benefit of boosting team morale.

Book to read:
Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, Third Edition by Richard and Rebecca Dufour.

Chef skills – In summary

A successful executive chef must be almost as good with people as they are with food. Soft skills are prized because anyone can learn hard skills.

While technical skills are important, the ability to deliver a warm, memorable experience delivered by a positive, cohesive and capable team is what will keep your guests coming back again and again – vital for your continued success in this business critical hospitality role.

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