Over the years, I have interviewed, read resumes, and conducted countless chef tastings. The title of chef holds an honor of many hours spent honing and refining one’s skills day in and day out. What differentiates a chef versus a cook can be disputed by many, but most will agree that a chef runs the kitchen and menu at all times. The chef sets the tone and mood of the kitchen — the dishes are his music, his cooks are his orchestra, and the chef is the conductor, setting the right tempo.
Not all great chefs have the same personality. Some may be bolder than others, but they always share the following five qualities, contributing to what makes them a great chef in today’s restaurant.
She or he is committed to the success and growth of the restaurant. Leading the charge for a better kitchen in all aspects, including aiding in improving the restaurant’s bottom line. Respect and rapport is earned by team members, as the chef is working with them side-by-side, in the trenches, during the busy rush.
The chef knows his or her recipes, yields, labor, mother sauces, and then some, but is pushing the envelope with creativity. The drive is strong. Thinking about the culinary arts, not the recipes, is this chef’s vision of success. The specials are rarely repeated, but are instead reinvented, showcasing the chef’s passion of the art and self-growth.
This a key quality that may be underrated at times when seeking your restaurant’s next great chef, but it is crucial for a chef to possess. The food and beverage world is fast-paced and in need of quick-thinkers. Many in the restaurant scene think we’ve seen it all, but often end up in novel, tricky situations, which is when a chef’s intuition comes in handy. A chef’s intuition will lead your team through uncharted waters and keep them from sinking.
Yes, we all know there is no “I” in team. It takes a team to build a thriving restaurant environment, which starts with killer leadership skills. It’s more than telling your team they’re doing a great job or may need to improve. It involves the chef having impeccable communication skills with both FOH and BOH, delegating the thousands of tasks needing to be accomplished to the right team members in the right way. A true chef is a team builder, not a team bulldozer. Leadership is the glue of a great chef and a successful restaurant. Many great chefs may have the required culinary skills, but lack the leadership skills necessary for years of continued success and growth.
Not all cooks want to be chefs, but a chef who sees no future for his or her team members is one that lacks true motivation for that team. Great chefs never hold back anyone in the kitchen with potential of moving on or who are committed to the restaurant for the long haul. Great chefs are always educating the team with their vast knowledge base and see the kitchen as a teaching ground for the next in line. There have been many line cooks who go on to become executive chefs, Michelin-Star chefs, as well as other great award-winning chefs who will tell you that, at one point on the line, another great chef was their educator and mentor, harboring their success.
By no means is there a set definition of a perfect chef, but a balance of skills and qualities is what makes for a great chef in today’s restaurant. A chef with top-notch culinary skills who lacks creativity, leadership, or delegating skills will do nothing for the growth of any restaurant. Yes, years of training and experience are a must, but not all chefs are able to pick up all the skill sets necessary for success. If you are a chef seeking for greatness in your kitchen, remember to stay grounded and always educate yourself on new techniques and refine the ones you already have. And finally, never think you are a one-person team.