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A chef is a professional who plans and creates dishes in a restaurant or catering setting. A chef could have several titles, including executive chef, sous chef or specialist. Despite the title, some of the same skills and competencies are required, since all professional chefs complete their work in the kitchen to produce the best possible dish for the customer. While a chef's focus is partially on the customer, it is also on food hygiene and safety in the kitchen.
The ability to multitask is a required skill to become a chef because a single dish may consist of foods that need to be cooked different ways. For instance, a plate may require a piece of protein such as beef, chicken or fish, a salad or serving of vegetables and a side dish of rice, potatoes or pasta. Each component needs to be cooked differently and the chef needs to be able to attend to each component at all times.
Understanding Ingredients, Produce and Spices
A chef must understand different ingredients in terms of texture and taste. This includes green produce and spices. All ingredients in the kitchen may not be properly labeled, so the chef should be able to recognize the ingredient by simply looking at it or briefly tasting it. This is an important skill, especially in a busy kitchen or if the ingredients arrive at the kitchen with no labels on them.
Chefs who are working in smaller restaurants or who work as executive chefs may be responsible for creating the restaurant menu. This is not simply putting ingredients together on the paper, but creating dishes that will make customers come to the restaurant for that particular dish. This may be a longer process, but requires the chef to be familiar with ingredients, food collaborations and wine tasting.
Health and Safety in Food Hygiene
One of the most important skills a chef must obtain is the ability to understand and practice health and safety in the kitchen. This can include putting away knives or kitchen equipment when it is not in use and treat food types accordingly. For instance, the chef should know not to place meat on the same cutting board as other foods, as bacteria from the meat could contaminate other foods, making a potential safety hazard for restaurant guests. The chef must recognize situations that may be potentially hazardous, such as kitchen towels near a hot stove, as the kitchen can be an active place during the evenings and on the weekends when customers want to experience delicious foods.
Based in Toronto, Mary Jane has been writing for online magazines and databases since 2002. Her articles have appeared on the Simon & Schuster website and she received an editor's choice award in 2009. She holds a Master of Arts in psychology of language use from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.