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What does a Culinary Chef do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A culinary chef not only cooks a wide range of food, she also commonly plans menus, creates dishes and directs the kitchen staff. She is normally competent in preparing food from a number of types of cuisine, but often specializes in one or two. Her work may be performed in a small or large establishment. Although she typically works in a traditional restaurant environment, she may also be employed by a hotel restaurant, cruise ship line or upscale retirement facility.

Customer satisfaction is generally the main concern of a culinary chef. If diners do not like the dishes she prepares, the restaurant will not thrive. If the chef believes problems exist in customer relations that do not involve her culinary creations, she normally asks the manager or maitre d' to resolve them.

When a culinary chef creates dishes and develops her menu, she is ordinarily required to take several factors into consideration. The restaurant’s food budget is normally a significant factor in the food choices she makes. She is also typically required to take into account the tastes of the demographics she serves as well as the theme projected by the establishment for which she works. If the eatery is known for moderately priced classic Italian dishes, she would generally avoid creating a menu full of high-priced steaks and seafood or one that highlighted fresh Greek salads.

Having a competent kitchen staff is normally considered imperative for a culinary chef to be successful. Her sous chef, traditionally seen as the second in command of the kitchen, is ordinarily expected to anticipate what the culinary chef will need to properly prepare her dishes. The saucier, a kitchen professional who is typically relegated to only making sauces, is generally required to do the job without direction. Every staff worker from the dishwasher to the server is commonly expected to be proficient and skilled in his or her specific duties.

Concurrent with simultaneously preparing several diverse dishes, a culinary chef is regularly required to make sure each dish is prepared to customer specifications and that it is attractively presented on the plate. Factors such as the customers’ desired degrees of doneness of meat, fish, pasta or vegetables must be considered on an individual basis. The plates must be properly garnished and free of drips or spills before the orders leave the kitchen. The chef is commonly expected to confirm all these details are properly addressed to ensure consistent customer satisfaction.

No formal educational requirements are normally needed for this position. A significant number of culinary chefs have formal training, however, through culinary schools or academies. Some have also worked under the direction of successful chefs to learn the trade. Proven culinary skills coupled with creative recipe development are generally the attributes most important to potential employers.

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