How to Hire a Head Chef for a Catering Company
If you have a catering company, but are too absorbed by the business end of the operation to do the cooking yourself, it’s time to start looking for a head chef. This might seem like a daunting task, as the chefs you should be considering are many things rolled into one: They must be passionate about their job, creative and ingenious in the kitchen, and able to lead a full staff at the same time that they whip up the fabulous dishes that will keep your business alive. You will probably have to interview many candidates before finding the best person for the job, but once you do, you’ll rest better knowing that the food end of your business is in the most capable hands.
Hiring a Head Chef
Hiring a chef is a major challenge for a caterer. You’ll be looking for someone who is a competent and hardworking chef, as well as a person who will be as dedicated to your company’s success as you are. If you find the right person for the job you will be able to trust him or her to prepare food (of course), as well as train new staff members, develop menus, and offer input and advice regarding marketing decisions that will affect your business. The head chef will become your right-hand person and you should take your time thinking about what you’re looking for, wording the best advertisement, sifting through resumes, and interviewing the candidates.
Who are You Looking For?
The first step in finding a great head chef is knowing what and who you’re looking for. If your catering business has a particular niche – foreign flavors, for instance, or perhaps vegetarian dishes – ensure that your chef’s capabilities match your needs. Although you will preferably be looking for someone with a culinary degree and experience, you will need to be much more discerning when you’re searching for a chef with a background that seems tailor-made for your requirements and that will be a perfect fit for you and your business.
Personality is a Big Factor
More than the skills to cook a great meal for many guests, you should be looking for a chef who has the leadership skills necessary to run a successful kitchen. You should be looking for someone with an even temperament and who is cool in stressful situations. A busy catering kitchen can be a pressure cooker, particularly on days when everything seems to go awry at once. In a case like that, a cool, calm, and decisive head chef will be instrumental in determining how the whole staff reacts and whether the outcome is success or failure.
Patience and insight are other important attributes for chefs, as you will want the right person to have the ability to train staff. He or she should be a good educator and should be well-spoken and intelligent. Chefs have to know the kitchen equipment inside out – before they join your team – so they can teach others on your staff to use this equipment safely and efficiently.
The right head chef will give you the ability to handle the business end of your company by being as committed to the operation’s success as you are. Having someone who is willing to do whatever is necessary – to go above and beyond what is in the job description – in order to achieve success, will allow you the peace of mind you need and will have a trickle-down effect on the entire staff. Head chefs should also have a great eye for details; they have to create menus (for very picky clients), order inventory that is both high-quality and within a pre-determined budget, and have a hand in the pricing that will ultimately affect your bottom line.
Interviewing Candidates for a Head Chef Position
After going through a mountain of resumes and narrowing the field down to a manageable number of candidates, it’s time to start the interview process. One of the first questions you can ask of a candidate is why he or she wants to be a head chef – it’s a question that can reveal a lot about a potential new hire. If money or prestige is the answer, you may want to put that candidate’s resume at the bottom of the pile. Instead you should be looking for people who talk about how much they love and enjoy cooking, and how they feel they can contribute to helping your business to thrive. A good head chef will be customer-centric; you don’t want someone whose nose is strictly in the pots and pans but, rather, someone who has an interest in what makes the business tick and what can make the clients happy.
You should ask all your candidates why they left their last job (or are thinking about leaving). This will give you an indication of how they get along with their employees and what their expectations are. You are looking for a team player and you will have to delve into their past experiences to deduce if they are indeed able to work with others in a leadership capacity. You also want to know if they’ve managed a team before, and you want to find out about their management style. Ask the candidates to put themselves in the shoes of their fellow workers and to describe how they get along with others; see if they can put into words the traits they believe are necessary for a head chef to be a good leader.
Strengths and Weaknesses
In addition to yes-and-no questions, you should ask head-chef candidates about their strengths and weaknesses. Talking about their strengths will put potential hires at ease; they’ll be talking about why you should hire them and what makes them special. It’s an easy question that most interviewees like answering. Talking about weaknesses, however, is trickier. Let the candidates understand that being honest about weaknesses is not a bad thing as long as they also talk about their willingness to learn from their mistakes, take instruction without being defensive, and turn a learning experience into an opportunity to gain new strengths.
If your head-chef candidate is experienced, he or she already knows that the catering business entails long hours and high-stress situations. Nonetheless, you should ask how they handle pressure and long hours, and how it affects their interaction with other staff members. Find out about a candidate’s ability to work odd hours or weekends, because that’s what the business requires. You don’t want to completely take over your head chef’s life, but the position requires a degree of sacrifice that few other jobs entail.
Don’t Forget About the Food
While we’ve focused until now on leadership skills and personality, the bottom line is that a head chef has to know food – and know it well. Discuss their favorite types of cuisine – what they enjoy cooking and what they haven’t mastered yet. If you regularly offer wine at the events you cater, ask about a candidate’s knowledge of food and wine pairings. As a test – before, during, or after the interview – ask them to create a few sample menus, according to season, cuisine, or dietary restriction. This is a great way to see how creative they are and, of course, to see if they’re a good fit for your business. In order to see if the candidate has a grasp of the financial end of the business, ask for a few menus that comply with a range of budgets. There’s a good chance that your head chef will be selecting and purchasing the ingredients used in your company’s offerings, so you must ensure that the candidate can stay within allotted budgets, to ensure that you’re not losing money.
After you narrow down the field, have each remaining candidate develop and cook a dish or two for you. The food prepared by your next top chef should meet the standards you’re looking for, and should instill confidence that you’re putting your kitchen in responsible hands.
A great head chef – on whom a business owner can rely with complete confidence – is one who is not only an excellent cook, but who is skilled at leadership and kitchen management. When you look for a head chef, you want to search for someone who can lead your kitchen, manage your staff fairly and skillfully, and who can provide creative, exciting, and delicious food to your customers. That may seem like a tall order, but for you – the business owner – it’s exactly what you need to know that your catering kitchen is in the right hands.