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A lead cook, also commonly referred to as a head cook, supervises other cooks and kitchen helpers in a retail or commercial food preparation environment. He is normally the cook with the most experience. Besides directing his staff, he typically prepares most of the entrees and assists as necessary in preparing other dishes.
Excellent cooking skills are needed to be a lead cook. He must have good math skills to accurately adapt ingredient measurements for recipes. To keep the food preparation process flowing and make sure dishes for groups of diners are finished at the same time requires a lead cook to have exemplary time management and organizational abilities. He should be aware of guidelines governing the safe storage and handling of food to avoid the possibility of contamination or spoilage. To get the best performances from his staff, he needs good leadership and motivational skills.
Besides food preparation, a lead cook has to keep his inventory of perishable and non-perishable food items at appropriate levels. He is frequently in charge of ordering food items from vendors and required to negotiate pricing and delivery with them. Some lead cooks are required to prepare menus, develop new recipes and track the kitchen’s profits and losses. A lead cook typically prepares work schedules for his staff and is in charge of employee hiring, training, supervision and termination.
The environment in which a lead cook works can vary from an outdated kitchen with old appliances and limited amenities to a state-of-the-art culinary workplace full of the latest and most sophisticated stoves, food preparation machines and tools. Regardless of the condition of the kitchen, he is on his feet for most of his workday, which is typically long. A lead cook is normally required to work nights, weekends and many holidays. He is generally expected to wear clothing appropriate to his environment including an apron, chef’s jacket or cook’s uniform.
This job requires no formal education although most employers prefer applicants have a high school diploma or equivalent. A considerable number of lead cooks learn their skills as line cooks or prep cooks. Many enhance their skills through enrolling in vocational programs or studying cooking skills and techniques on their own. Those wishing to advance to positions as chefs frequently enroll in culinary institutes or cooking schools.
Salary and Advancement Opportunities
A lead cook may be able to advance to various management positions in a large restaurant but has little hope for promotion at smaller establishments. To earn more money, a lead cook normally finds a job with more challenge in a larger or more prestigious restaurant. According to MySalary.com, the 2009 United States annual median salary for a lead cook was $28,345.
Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.