A chief cook is a person who works in the kitchen of a ship as the senior member of a cooking team. The chief cook is board responsible for coordinating the preparation and cooking of all meals on the vessel, and he or she may also be responsible for other duties such as cleaning, purchasing ingredients, designing a menu, and so on. On most ships, the chief cook does not need to be licensed in any way, but on some ships, such as Merchant Marine ships, the cook needs to be licensed to perform duties on board the ship.
Many of the duties taken on by a chief cook are similar to the duties of a cook at a restaurant on land. He or she must plan and prepare meals, and participate in the cooking of those meals. The chief cook is also a manager of sorts, directing other cooks during all aspects of the meal and clean up. Inventory management may also fall on the shoulders of the chief cook, as well as purchasing ingredients, and transporting and storing foods on the ship and during transport to the ship. He or she is essentially the point person for all aspects of the ship's kitchen and meal service.
One of the most important duties of the chief cook is to inspect and maintain the cleanliness of the kitchen. Food preparation can lead to bacteria buildup, which can in turn lead to illnesses onboard the ship. Many ships are prepared to deal with medical emergencies, but some ships are out at sea long enough that even mild illnesses can be dangerous. The chief cook must ensure all surfaces in the kitchen are cleaned properly and regularly to prevent the spread of bacteria or the accrual of filth that can lead to bacteria buildup.
The chief cook is also usually in charge of managing the kitchen supplies and ordering any necessary equipment or food. Although the options are sometimes limited if the ship is run by a government or company, the chief cook still has some discretion when choosing how to stock the ship’s kitchen. For this reason, a chief cook needs to know affordable and high-quality equipment and ingredients, such as the best cookware for glass-top stoves or the most versatile in-season vegetables.
Becoming a cook on a ship requires significant kitchen experience, and some ships may require the job candidate to have experience on board a ship as well. A college degree is not often necessary to obtain this job, though most ships will require that the job candidate possess at least a high school diploma and some relevant training or experience as a cook. Any specific licenses for handling food must be obtained in advance of application. Some ships may require that the cook be able to repair kitchen equipment as necessary as well.