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How to Interview a Chef

by Sam Ashe-Edmunds

When hiring a chef, your main concern shouldn’t be his cooking skills. While the ability to prepare high-quality dishes is critical for any chef, good cooks come a dime a dozen. Being able to run a kitchen and help turn your restaurant into a strong brand that makes a continuing profit is what separates a chef from a cook. Focus on management skills when you interview chefs after you’ve determined your candidate can cook.

Start with Cooking Skills

The fist step in qualifying a chef for your restaurant is to determine that he has sufficient cooking skills. One of the main responsibilities of your chef will be to create menus that bring in customers, keep costs at a level that create a profit and teach kitchen staff how to prepare menu items. Ask where the chef learned to cook, review his work history and discuss any original recipes he’s created or awards he’s won. Ask about his cooking philosophies, thought process in creating dishes, personal goals, who his mentors were, who his cooking inspirations are and why. Ask what trade publications he reads or if he is a member of any professional associations.

Ask About Management Experience

Once you’ve determined the chef has the right technical background, ask how he uses it in a business environment. Discuss his experience purchasing inventory, creating menus to develop a brand, managing food costs, how he encourages upselling and how he creates daily specials. Learn how he organizes his kitchen, in terms of hiring, training and scheduling. Discuss if he has ever been in charge of a budget, how he minimizes theft and spoilage, his knowledge of health department rules and his practices to observe them. Finally, ask how he will ensure your kitchen will operate smoothly on his day off, while he’s on vacation or if he is ill for a few days. Include your accountant, marketing person and dining room manager in this part of the interview and get their feedback later.

Ask for Suggestions

Ask the chef what he thinks of your menu, advertising, promotions and pricing. If the chef has not bothered to visit your website to learn about your business or come in to dine before the interview, that might be a sign the chef is more interested in cooking than being a part of your management team. If the chef has researched your restaurant and provides helpful ideas for improving your brand, take him on a tour of your kitchen, giving him paper and pencil to take notes. After your tour, ask him his thoughts on your kitchen arrangement, equipment, walk-ins, storage areas and any other aspects of your operation he would improve or change.

Discuss Personal Issues

Ask the chef why he is leaving his current job and what appeals to him about your opening. Ask him to describe negative and positive working situations he’s been involved with in the past. Ask about his dream work scenario as a chef. Look for patterns that might suggest negativity, an unwillingness to do the mundane tasks of a manager or any other red flags that suggest he might not fit into your company. Ask if the chef would like to open his own restaurant some day and what type of food he would serve. If his dream restaurant differs greatly from yours, that might be sign you are a short-term stepping stone for the candidate.

Require a Cooking Demo

Once you have qualified the chef’s background, abilities, skills and interest in the position, have him prepare a dish or two from your menu, a dish that would complement your menu, or one or two dishes from a new menu he would suggest as part of a rebranding. Invite two or more of your staff members to try the dishes with you to get additional feedback. Ask what he thinks the approximate food costs of each dish is and what price he would set for them.

About the Author

Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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