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Career and Job Search Guide
  

Chef, Cook and Food Preparation

Chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers prepare and cook a variety of foods. They work in restaurants and other businesses that serve food. Chefs and cooks prepare recipes and meals while food preparation workers monitor food that is cooking, cut vegetables, trim meat, and perform other food preparation duties.

Specifically, chefs and cooks use recipes to measure, mix, and cook food. Chefs and head cooks also supervise kitchen workers and have administrative duties such as ordering food from vendors.

Under the supervision of chefs, food preparation workers perform routine food preparation duties. These workers prepare the items to be served in complex dishes. Food preparation workers weigh and measure ingredients, collect cooking utensils, stir soups and sauces, cut meats, and prepare seafood for cooking. They also clean and sanitize cooking areas and utensils.

Larger restaurants and food services establishments have more items on their menus and larger staffs, usually with several chefs and cooks. Each chef or cook is assigned to work in a specific section in the kitchen with various stoves and utensils. Chefs and cooks' responsibilities depend on the type of food or the food preparation process they specialize in, such as fry, vegetable, or grill cooks. These cooks collaborate with other food preparation workers. Executive chefs and head cooks supervise the kitchen staff, coordinate food preparation, determine serving sizes, plan menu items, and order food from vendors. Executive chefs may also be responsible for supervising kitchens in numerous restaurants or hotels. A chef de cuisine has the responsibility to directly run a kitchen's operations, under the supervision of an executive chef. A sous chef, or sub chef, assumes the kitchen's responsibilities when the chef is absent. Many chefs who prepare high quality foods become very popular.

A cook's responsibilities depend on where he or she is employed. Institution and cafeteria cooks work in school cafeterias, hospitals, and other institutions. They usually prepare large quantities of predetermined food. Restaurant cooks usually prepare more varieties of food but cater to customer's individual requests. Short-order cooks prepare foods that require little preparation in such places as coffee shops and some restaurants. Fast-food cooks prepare a limited variety of food for fast-food restaurants.

The types and amounts of workers employed in food services are also dependent on the type of establishment they work for. Small, casual dining restaurants offer a limited amount of food easily prepared, in conjunction with already made desserts. One cook usually prepares all the food with the assistance of a short-order cook and 1-2 other kitchen aides.

Grocery and specialty food stores hire cooks, chefs, and food preparation aides to prepare recipes and cook meals for customers to carry out. Usually, food is prepared in large quantities and stored until served. Counter assistants portion and place food in packages for customers to pick up.

Certain cooks, known as research chefs, use their culinary skills and their knowledge of food to create food items to be sold in chain restaurants and food manufacturers. They develop and test new flavors and determine the most effective way to prepare new foods.

Some people hire personal chefs. Private household cooks prepare meals in private homes to meet their clients' dietary requests. They usually shop for the groceries, cook the meals, and clean up afterwards. Private chefs work for families, corporations, and other institutions. These chefs often live and may travel with the people or institutions that hire them. Private chefs are usually required to sign confidentiality agreements since they work closely with their employers. Private chefs often plan events.

Some personal chefs prepare enough food for an entire week, so their clients can simply heat the food when they are ready to eat it. Personal chefs are usually self-employed or work for companies that provide personal chefs.

Work environment. Many restaurants are air conditioned and have modern cooking equipment but older restaurants are not always as modern. People working in kitchens spend their time in small quarters, in close proximity to hot stoves. They are often pressured to quickly prepare quality meals while observing safety procedures. Since restaurant employees must work very quickly, especially during peak hours, effective communication is very important.

The working conditions in restaurants usually depend on the type of food served at the restaurant and local food safety laws. Food preparation workers are usually on their feet for the majority of the day, and they sometimes lift heavy cooking utensils. Food preparation workers can slip on wet floors, receive burns, and cut themselves with sharp cooking utensils, but serious injuries are rare.

Food preparation employees work early mornings, nights, holidays, and weekends. Those working in corporate and school cafeterias usually have regular work hours. People working in fine-dining establishments usually work longer hours since it takes more time to prepare food. Many executive chefs regularly work 12 hour days since they plan the food on the menu, supervise food deliveries from vendors, and assist in food preparation.

Since restaurants and other food preparation establishments are open all day and often require large staffs, opportunities exist for people who want to earn extra income and work flexible schedules. However, some establishments, such as school cafeterias and resorts, are not open year round.
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