If you find yourself wondering what do executive chefs do? Then you are certainly not alone; The various terminology used in kitchens can be confusing to say the least!
Compounding the confusion is the fact that the various roles are fluid in their definition, meaning – different people will use the same job title in different ways.
With this in mind I have put together this article to clearly explain the role of an executive chef, an executive chef’s responsibilities, and the qualities that make a good executive chef!
By the time readers finish they will be ready to step into the executive chefs shoes (in theory anyway, even if not literally!)
An executive chef is the highest ranking person in the kitchen, they’re even above the head chef. Executive chefs can supervise multiple head chefs, and they often have to oversee several restaurants at the same time.
As we can see from the above snippet, an executive chef is the top of the chef hierarchy ladder, they even out rank the head chef!
Armed with this information we can now look at the role the executive chef plays in the kitchen, after all they must be pretty important if they get to boss the head chef around!?
The Role of an Executive Chef
Executive chef roles within a kitchen can be varied. The size of the kitchen, the standard of the cuisine being produced, and the number of restaurants all play an important part.
Having said that, all executive chefs have the same overarching goal:
The role of an executive chef is to work alongside the head chef, helping with menu creation and the vision for the restaurant. They then must supervise the head chef and ensure they are working towards these goals.
Executive chefs help the head chef to plan the menu. Between them they will test out ideas and ensure that the necessary profit margins can be achieved on each dish.
This is usually a very balanced environment, both chefs are respectful of each others opinions and (hopefully) they work together as a great team.
However, when a company has more than one restaurant under the same banner, (such as the now closed chain of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants) the executive chefs will have tighter controls over their head chefs.
- In these instances the job of the executive chef is to teach the head chef the framework in which they must follow. This type of role is much more structured.
- If it is the ethos of the restaurant chain, that a person should be able to eat the same meal in any one of their restaurants, regardless of which location they choose; the head chef has very little input in menu creation.
Using the Jamie Oliver Italian chain from the example above; Jamie Oliver will be the executive chef. This brings to light a problem, and why executive chefs are so vital – he clearly can’t be cooking in all of his restaurants at the same time!
To overcome this problem head chefs are put into each kitchen to run them and they are overseen by the executive chef.
It’s clear that in these types of situation, although the head chef is still respected and does a great job of running a kitchen, there is the potential for a head chef to find themselves frustrated by the lack of individuality they are allowed to bring to the role.
The role of the executive chef requires that they monitor and support all their head chefs. If one of them is struggling, and a solution cannot be found, it is also unfortunately the job of the executive chef to put forward the case for the head chef needing to leave.
Executive chef is by no means an easy position to hold, and it is a job only suited to certain types of individuals. We shall now take a look at the qualities a hopeful executive chef needs to demonstrate in order to take that step up the ladder.
The Qualities of an Executive Chef
The qualities an executive chef needs to posses are: great organisational skills, high level of cuisine knowledge, strong grasp of business concepts and an ability to control an often fiery head chef.
As we can see the role of the executive chef is not for the faint hearted. Being in control of multiple kitchens and dealing with often strong personalities of a head chef is challenging to say the least!
I’m sure readers are already beginning to picture in their mind the type of person that can be a head chef tamer! Although a stereotypical large tough guy, or tough girl, is fair in some cases, this is often not a true reflection of real life.
These are just a few of the examples and we shall look at these along with a few other important traits below.
- Great organisational skills: As if running one kitchen wasn’t difficult enough, an executive chef has to oversee several, ensuring they are all serving cuisine to the required standard and importantly; also making money.
- High level of cuisine knowledge: Despite the business knowledge requirements of the role, first and foremost they are a chef. It is vital that an executive chef is able to issue guidance on the direction the cuisine should be taking.
- Business savvy: Not often the first thought of passionate foodies, is the underlying fact that a restaurant is a business that exists to make money! A key grasp of the figures, and timely intervention when things are heading off course, is a huge part of an executive chef’s role.
- People Management Skills: There can be few personalities more difficult to manage than a strong headed head chefs. A no nonsense approach from the executive chef ensures that a rogue head chef cannot run away with their own ideas at the expense of the restaurant group as a whole.
- Team Player: Even with the above mentioned quality, it is important that an executive chef can work together with the head chef. By combining ideas and forming a team, they are far more efficient and produce higher results.
Alongside these personal skills, an executive chef provides a vital link between the owners of the business and the head chefs on the ground.
The head chefs are in the kitchens every day, speaking and directly dealing with customers. The executive chef plays an important role in being the mouth piece back to the owners, relaying the feelings among the guys on the ground.
It would be easy to look at these character traits and believe that the stereotypical large, angry chef would be the perfect fit for the role. However, what we often find is that this is not the case.
Any chef that makes it to this level has spent a long time in professional kitchens learning their craft. A chef simply does not get to this level without being made of tough stuff.
Often that toughness takes the form of a more quietly confident person. They often command a great deal of respect for what they have achieved rather than some chest puffing bravado that would be seen through by the brigade pretty quickly!
In this manor, an ability to command respect is perhaps the most important quality. In the world of catering this respect is earned by the experiences we have had.
If a chef demonstrates the experience they have gained and produces outstanding cuisine, the other chefs will follow them; even if they are as quiet as a mouse!
Perhaps after reading this description we decide this is the job for us? After all, most chefs starting out dream one day of having a successful restaurant (or two) under their belt.
We may then be wondering how much do we get paid for all this responsibility and hard work?
How Much Does an Executive Chef Get Paid?
Discovering an accurate wage as a guide can be difficult at this level of kitchen rank, for the unique reasons we shall look at below. I wrote a whole article on the topic of wages for all kitchen positions which I shall link here as it compiles the research that I did on the topic.
However, for those that want a figure as a guide;
The average wage for an Executive Chef in the UK is £35,880. However, there are several factors that can heavily influence this average.
Anyone familiar with these articles will know that before we can talk about money, we have to briefly mention that the biggest impact on wages is the level of cuisine being produced.
- A Michelin star chef will earn more than a chef at a lower level restaurant.
However, the executive chef position is one where the rule book goes out the window some what.
Yes it is true that an executive chef overseeing several Michelin star restaurants will be able to command a large wage. It is also true that an executive chef that oversees hundreds of chain pub restaurants, will also be able to command a high wage.
The salary of an executive chef is linked not only to the standard of the cuisine, but in relation to the number of restaurants under their command as well.
As executive chef is a high level, this position (similar to executive level positions in many other industries) often comes with other financial benefits in the form of bonuses and performance related pay.
Some may feel that a chef of this level deserves more reward for all the hard work they put in to get there. We often see that the wages are kept suppressed because of the working benefits that come with the job.
By this I mean that executive chefs tend to follow a more ‘normal’ working pattern. They often have evenings off, and it is not common to see them in the kitchen during the weekends.
For many this greater work life balance is a driving factor in their decision to move away from cooking in the kitchen full time.
Putting the wages to one side, the respect and quo dose that comes from achieving the highest level is something that all chefs hope to emulate. Anyone who makes it to this lofty position should be very proud of themselves.
To Sum Up
When starting out on our chef careers, the level of executive chef can seem so far away and unachievable. However, as with anything in life, if we chip away at it bit by bit we will get the reward we desire in the end.
The important point is to enjoy the journey along the way. After chatting with several executive chef friends, it is the time in the kitchen cooking and climbing the ranks that they fondly reminisce over.
We should all remember; whilst it is important to have a goal and a destination in mind, it is equally important that we the take time to enjoy the journey.