A lot goes into the successful running of a restaurant, from financing it to managing day-to-day operations and customer service. One critical component resides in human resources; without an excellent chef, wait staff and other personnel, a new restaurant quickly loses its luster and, potentially, positive Yelp reviews.
Fortunately, steps can be taken to ensure your restaurant’s longevity and popularity. The trick is in knowing what qualities to look for when interviewing chefs and committing to hiring only individuals who possess them. You should keep an eye out for the following five the next time you begin the hiring process at your restaurant.
Tanner Angar, Founder and CEO of The Chef Shelf, regularly helps chefs build their reputations and share their creations with the world. He suggests restauranteurs should pursue chefs who claim not only beautiful plating skills but also management capabilities.
“Being a head chef has as much to do with being a manager as it does with being a chef,” Tanner says. “The best way I know to understand their capacity to manage is to get references from former employees.
“These people are often willing to identify who inspired their staffs and pushed them toward greatness; who used fear; and who simply couldn’t handle a kitchen brigade.”
When it comes to hiring a chef, you want a person who stimulates greatness and loyalty, not a bully or weakling. The latter two will “inspire” people to jump ship and leave your restaurant in the lurch.
It’s a given that your chef needs basic culinary skills. However, you should also seek a person with an intimate knowledge of food safety. They know the temperature at which certain meets can be served and how raw chicken should be handled. To them, such details seem as natural as breathing.
You should also pursue, adds Kendall College Associate Dean and Chef Instructor Michel Coatrieux, a chef who has “mastered their craft. Beyond knowing how to apply a cooking method or technique to one cuisine, it is important [they] have knowledge of an array of produce, protein and other ingredients. By being technically-skilled and more versatile, the chef is a bigger asset to the restaurant.”
Collaborative and Problem-Solving
The success or failure of a restaurant’s kitchen rests upon teamwork rather than personality. “A good chef,” says Gonca Esendemirm, who owns Flatbread Grill, a small, fresh casual Mediterranean restaurant with her sisters, “should be able to solve problems and work collaboratively. A commercial kitchen is filled with daily challenges and issues.”
Because no one chef can solve every issue, you should look for a person who embraces humility and welcomes the input of the team, from the busboy to the hostess, and from the dessert chef to the sous-chef.
Grace under Fire
Kitchens are always hopping, but they sometimes turn into veritable powder kegs. The wait time rests at 45 minutes, easy, and the line extends out the door and around the block. Great—except for the customers getting hungrier and more irritated by the minute.
A great chef knows how to handle the never-ending inflow of orders with grace and serenity. Even when the kitchen seems a wreck about to happen, the chef exudes a calmness that infects everyone. The night will end; customers will return and be as demanding as ever before. The great chef accepts the reality. More than that, says Gonca, “they thrive under it.”
Your chef should have a passion and enthusiasm for food and menu creation, too. Coatrieux says, “A good chef understands menu creation and its importance for delighting customers and the impact on both revenue and profit. The menu is more than just a list of what is offered at the restaurant. It is the kitchen’s key marketing component as well.”
When looking for your chef, keep shows like The Great British Bake-Off in mind. Paul and Mary love desserts, and they show it every time they create, teach, judge and eat. They talk about flavors and presentation much as an artist would converse about paint strokes. Food is to be savored, presented well and shared.
The five qualities found here aren’t exhaustive. But, they should give your restaurant a good start. Look for chefs who possess passion, humility and managerial skills, and your restaurant will soon make top marks in food critics’ columns and customers’ reviews.