Is There A Difference Between a Head Chef and an Executive Chef?
Well, it will take a ton of work to get there. Still, the Executive Chef enjoys a comfortable salary and position of power that garners the respect and attention of the line cooks and every person in the restaurant.
Suppose you have a boatload of professional kitchen experience, a degree in a culinary-related field, and the skills to manage a kitchen staff and serve a sophisticated clientele. In that case, you may want to consider a position as an Executive Chef.
The occupation of an Executive Chef requires you to be an effective leader, manager, and coordinator. Dozens of people may be either reporting to you or working under you.
To be an Executive Chef, it is critical that you can juggle a variety of responsibilities while focusing wholly on customer service and the quality of food that your restaurant is producing and serving.
Executive Chef, Head Chef or Chef de Cuisine
With all the jargon out there, sometimes it’s difficult to keep it straight. These three terms are often used synonymously – however, there are slight distinctions between them. The term “chef” in the French language means “chief.”
“Chef de Cuisine” and “Executive Chef” are generally used for bigger establishments, often those with more than one location. For example, Bobby Flay is the Executive Chef of multiple restaurants, but each of those restaurants would have a Chef de Cuisine specific to that location.
Both these positions are visionary leaders, supervising both the inner workings of the kitchen, as well as the public side of the restaurant.
The term “Head Chef” is given to positions with similar responsibilities as Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine positions but is saved for smaller establishments, often with a single location. These descriptions of the various positions are not cut and dried – it really depends on the establishment.
Education Requirements of the Executive Chef
There are many paths taken for aspiring Executive Chefs to reach their goal. Various levels of academic achievement for professional culinary arts and pastry training exist. The most basic achievements are diplomas and certificates awarded for one-year academic programs.
These achievements are best for entry-level jobs. The next step up is an Associate’s Degree, which offers a more in-depth level of instruction, including business management experience, during a two-year program.
Bachelor’s Degrees are awarded after completing a four-year program, which provides more comprehensive culinary training and expands on other business concepts, like cost analysis and budgeting.
Finally, the most advanced degree is a Master’s Degree. This degree can either focus on a specific business discipline or go into more advanced chef training as well.
If your end goal is to become Executive Chef, it is suggested (though not required) that you acquire a Bachelor’s Degree combined with some practical experience in the field. These two together will prepare you for kitchen management and advanced hospitality duties.
Don’t get discouraged if your Executive Chef position isn’t acquired directly after receiving your Bachelor’s Degree – it will take more than just a degree to get there. However, acquiring this degree or a similar one will likely start the ball rolling for your career. Individuals often progress from a Sous Chef position to an Executive Chef position.
Responsibilities of the Chef de Cuisine
Although the responsibilities of the Executive Chef can vary slightly between different positions, the responsibilities will generally be along these lines:
The Executive Chef will hire, train, and manage kitchen staff members, cooks, and Sous Chefs. The Executive Chef is also responsible for coordinating all culinary-related tasks such as outlining the menus appropriate for the type of restaurant, developing recipes, planning prices, and ensuring that the working space meets industry-approved hygiene, sanitation, and safety standards. This includes arranging for long-term plans associated with the general culinary experience.
Occasionally, the Executive Chef may prepare special menu items, instruct staff members on kitchen techniques, or interact directly with restaurant patrons. The executive chef’s responsible for being a team player and fostering a positive group-working environment.
The Executive Chef’s actions promote positive interactions between workers and invite feedback to improve any restaurant actions. The Executive Chef also orders food supplies, keeps updated records and accounts, and dictates plating design.
Sometimes the Chef de Cuisine holds a separate job position from the Executive Chef. In this case, the Chef de Cuisine is often responsible for the daily food operations and reports to the Executive Chef who runs the managerial side of the kitchen.
When working in this capacity, the Chef de Cuisine is first in command in the kitchen, overseeing even the Sous Chef, while the Executive Chef works on the administrative side of food service.
The median expected salary (in 2014) for an Executive Chef in the United States was around $41,610 annually and $20.01 per hour*. However, your salary depends on various factors, including the restaurant you work at, the location, the current economy, and your prior experience and education. An education from a reputable culinary arts program will most likely allow you to earn a higher salary.
In 2014, there were 127,500 Executive Chef positions. Fortunately for those of you inspired to one day become an Executive Chef, the job outlook looks promising. The number of executive chef positions is expected to grow 9 percent in the next ten years, faster than most other occupations' average rate.
Candidates will most likely find the most competition for jobs in positions where the pay is the highest, such as high-end restaurants, casinos, and hotels.
Where to Start
If you are interested in seriously pursuing this occupation, the best place to start is the classroom. Aspiring chefs who have graduated culinary school with a 4-year degree in Culinary Arts will be better prepared to get a job in this demanding and highly competitive career path.
Furthermore, the more experience you have, the better. Because the job description is far-reaching and covers numerous responsibilities, it is best to have hands-on experience in multiple areas of the kitchen.
This is not typically a job that can be earned by walking into a restaurant and filling out an application. Generally, an Executive Chef moves up the ranks over time. First working as a Sauté Chef, then a Pastry Chef, and perhaps Sous Chef before getting close to the top position.
Frequently Executive Chefs will manage multiple restaurants at a time, and this type of responsibility is entrusted to those with years of professional culinary experience.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics (BSL)
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.