No chefs? No food.
Chefs are an essential part of every restaurant. They develop recipes, manage the kitchen staff, deal with inventory and vendors, and are ultimately responsible for what ends up on a guest's plate.
That said, there are many different types of restaurant chefs and cooks with their own unique sets of duties, responsibilities, and expectations. As a result, you need to take a tailored approach to hiring and managing each member of your back-of-house team.
Before we get into the various types of chefs and cooks, it’s important to note the difference between the two types of roles. Both are responsible for making and cooking the food in a restaurant, but their duties in the business and their backgrounds tend to vary.
A cook is a more junior member of your back-of-house team. They're responsible for preparing ingredients and fulfilling orders for specific stations. They tend to have less input in recipes, instead following the chef's instructions and recipe cards.
Chefs are high-ranking employees in the back of the house. They're typically tasked with organizational and managerial assignments, like contributing to the menu and developing recipes, overseeing all your back-of-house staff, and making back-of-house schedules. Chefs sometimes have formal culinary education, and usually have at least five years of experience in a similar role.
However, when it comes to those cooks who specialize in the preparation of meat, fish, sauces, or vegetables, the line between chef and cook is much blurrier, depending on the specifics of a restaurant and how high-end it is. Though some fine dining restaurants do follow the classic French hierarchy that includes roles like Saucier (sauce cook/chef) or Poissonnier (fish cook/chef), most North American restaurants don’t. Rather, they hire less-specialized cooks and chefs that can do multiple roles at once, or switch roles on different days as needed.
When hiring for the back of house, it’s important to understand the difference between each role, what their duties are, and why they matter. Here’s a list of 13 types of chefs and cooks, and how to hire for each.
Types of Chefs
If you’re looking to hire a Chef-Owner, you’re looking for a full-on business partner. Chef-Owners always have their plates full, as they’re running not just the kitchen but the entire restaurant, as well as the business and people management side. If you want to step back into more of an investor role, or you need more help running the whole operation, and you think your executive chef is ready for a step up, they can be promoted to Chef-Owner.
A significant ownership stake, plus a salary ranging from $46,000-167,000 per year.
Executive Chef, Head Chef, or Chef de Cuisine
This is the chef who runs the kitchen. Typically, this person doesn't own the restaurant, but they may be a founder or recognized leader of the business. They generally forego some operational duties to put all of their effort into creating the best meals possible. They’ll spend their time developing recipes, managing relationships with food vendors, managing back-of-house staff, and on many more duties that contribute to food making it onto customers’ plates. This is someone who you’re likely seeking out before opening the restaurant. You could research prominent Sous Chefs in your area who may be looking to run their own kitchen or build relationships with chefs in the community with new or additional interests. If you're replacing your executive chef, see if your Sous Chef is ready for a big step up in their career.
Executive Chef Salary:
Tasked with managing the Line Cooks and running the kitchen in the Head Chef's absence, the Sous Chef is the back of house's second in command. Sous Chef is typically a role most don't want to stay in forever – many of those in this spot have their eyes on the Head Chef position. When hiring a Sous Chef, it’s important to find someone with a good balance of ambition and work ethic. You want somebody who is creative, skilled, amazing with people, and who has the drive to one day become the Head Chef, but who is also patient and willing to earn their stripes. Their work weeks tend to be some of the toughest, with the longest hours.
Sous Chef Salary:
Restaurants that aim to offer the best baked goods and sweet pastries need an all-star Pastry Chef. This role often extends past baked goods to designing the entire dessert menu and formulating recipes. Great Pastry Chefs will be knowledgeable about common allergens and proficient in baking for any dietary restrictions, from gluten-free to lactose intolerant. You should also prioritize creativity because a great dessert or pastry menu is one that offers up the unexpected. Pastry Chefs often supervise one or two (or more) pastry cooks who help execute the Pastry Chef's vision.
Pastry Chef Salary:
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Types of Cooks
Prep Cooks, as their name implies, handle the kitchen's daily food preparation. Prep Cooks are often new to working in a kitchen, which is why you'll find them learning the basics, like chopping, mincing, labeling, defrosting, and generally preparing the kitchen to handle meal service. When hiring prep cooks, you should verify their various skills and knowledge of the industry at large. While these are entry-level positions, Prep Cooks who can handle a knife and already know operational and health basics will significantly contribute to a more efficient kitchen.
Prep Cook Salary:
$8.69 - $14.38 per hour
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A Line Cook is a generalist who cooks the orders as they come flooding in all throughout a service. They can work on the Grill Station, Cold Station, Hot Line, Pasta Station, and more — sometimes, they'll have to man more than one station in a shift if a kitchen is short-staffed. Some prep work is usually done by Line Cooks before each shift. The best Line Cooks are excellent team players, efficient and clean cooks, and have at least a year or two of experience. If you have to pay an extra dollar or two per hour to hire an experienced Line Cook, it’s worth it. Your best Prep Cook that's ready for a promotion can be tapped to try out life on the line, and if it goes well, they can be promoted to working as a Line Cook.
Line Cook Salary:
$9.14 - $15.29 per hour
Typically found in diners or other casual restaurants, Short-Order Cooks work efficiently and quickly to cook simple-to-make dishes that can be made one after another, instead of intricate ones with many steps. A Prep Cook can be promoted to a Short-Order Cook role to get a taste of cooking the orders that come rushing in all shift long, or you can hire externally and find someone with a year or two of experience in a fast-paced kitchen. For this role, you'll need a master multitasker who can cook 24 eggs at once, to different levels of doneness and in different styles, without breaking a sweat.
Short Order Cook Salary:
$8.04 - $14.42 per hour
Usually found in fast-food restaurants, a Fry Cook runs the fryers and sometimes the burger station when needed. When hiring Fry Cooks, it’s important look for someone who can take the heat — literally — because standing in front of a fryer for hours is not for the faint of heart.
Fry Cook Salary:
$7.44 - $11.44 per hour
These four types of BOH staff members can be referred to as cooks or chefs, depending on the type of kitchen and their level of experience and the demands of their role. However, they're not particularly common in most modern North American kitchens.
Also known as the Rôtisseur or the Meat Cook, this cook takes meat preparation to the next level. Any meat-based menu items are in this cook’s wheelhouse, including the spices/gravies used to season them. Roast Cooks should, obviously, be extremely capable at discerning levels of doneness, not just to ensure meat is properly and safely prepared but cooked to every customer’s satisfaction.
Roast Cook Salary:
$7.25 - $22.90 per hour
The Poissonnier, or the Fish Cook, is responsible for preparing all seafood in the kitchen, including stocks and soups. In the absence of a Saucier, they may be expected to prepare any sauces that should accompany the fish. The Poissonnier can also be responsible for acquiring fresh fish on a daily basis from local merchants or bringing in out-of-market catches as the menu requires. If you’re operating a higher-end restaurant that features seafood on the menu, it’s essential to have a Poissonnier who knows the local fishermen and has extensive experience acquiring the daily catch. You'll want someone particularly detail-oriented for this role: a rogue pin bone in a plate of roasted cod can ruin the dining experience for a guest.
$7.25 - $22.55 an hour
Formally referred to as a Saucier, or Sauce Cook, this person is responsible for choosing and preparing sauces used in a kitchen – ranging from salad dressings, to gravy, to pasta sauces, to soups and stews. A great Saucier has a refined, worldly palate and the creativity to think outside the box when creating sauces. You'll want someone very consistent in this role: your red sauce should taste the same every single day.
$9.76 - $16.33 per hour
Sometimes called the Entremetier, the Vegetable Cook works on veggies, starches, and sometimes eggs. Smaller restaurants may not have the resources to hire a dedicated Vegetable Cook, and instead divide their duties among the rest of the BOH crew.
Vegetable Cook Salary:
Whether you run a fine dining restaurant that employs all these types of chefs and cooks, or you only have three or four of them on staff working to get everything done together, it's crucial that your kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine. Hire the best people you can find, even if it costs you a little more: it'll pay off in the long run.