A lead cook is normally a supervisory position in a kitchen. Depending on the organization, this person is likely not considered a full-fledged kitchen manager or chef. However, lead cooks normally have some of the supervision and oversight duties of these managers delegated to them. In many higher-end restaurants, the lead cook position is considered a stepping stone to a full-fledged managerial or chef position.
First and foremost, the lead cook is charged with meal preparation. This person normally works a station in the kitchen, assigned either by equipment areas (such as broiler or sautee) or by food courses to be prepared (such as appetizers, meat, or seafood). The lead cook usually has some responsibility to call orders to the rest of the cooking team and check with other members of the cooking team on their anticipated completion. The lead cook also normally examines all plates to be served to ensure they meet the quality standards established by the chef or management.
Many restaurants also use lead cooks to supervise post-shift cleanup duties, and the the lead cook may have a keyholder function, locking up when the kitchen line is fully scrubbed and cleaned from service. In these situations, the lead cook is expected to review and inspect the cleaning done by other kitchen crew to make sure the food preparation areas are clean and ready for the next shift.
The education requirements to be a lead cook vary. In many restaurants or hotels, experience in the kitchen takes precedence over formal education or training. These companies generally prefer to promote from within to maintain a supervisory hierarchy familiar with recipes and standards. In more formal restaurants, the company may only promote persons with formal culinary training and education to the lead cook position, using it as a trial run to assess the ability of an individual for potential promotion to a chef position.
Lead cooks spends most of their workday on their feet in an environment that ranges from warm to very hot. The duties of this position usually require either daytime or evening-shift work, and weekend and holiday availability is a must.
Lead Cook Tasks
- Answer guest questions about menu and preparation.
- Modify processes for routing and meeting orders according to time and quality standards.
- Stock and maintain all food stations, ensuring hygienic workspaces.
- Oversee food handling and preparation throughout a kitchen.
- Monitor and evaluate staff and coordinate break schedules.