When things go wrong and the kitchen comes to a screeching halt on a busy night or hurried lunch hour, it's up to the executive chef to put things back together, rally the troops and make the shift a success. In addition to putting out fires both literally and figuratively, executive chefs are often responsible for hiring and training new cooks as well as developing special menu items. Safety also falls into an executive chef's realm of responsibility.
Executive chefs lead first and foremost by example, which is why they need to look the part, from the top of their hats to the soles of their chef shoes. They must also possess essential leadership qualities in order to make their kitchens the best they can be.
Following are six abilities and qualities an executive chef should have:
Respect for Safety
Kitchen safety can be taught through training sessions and guidebooks, but it needs to be reinforced by example. Executive chefs should have every safety guideline memorized. They need to keep a sharp eye out for safety violations to protect their staff and the financial integrity of the restaurant. One way to lead by example is to wear chef shoes with slip-resistant soles. Slip-resistant shoes keep busy cooks on their feet and help prevent slip-and-fall accidents.
The executive chef should be able to trust his staff completely – and that means learning how to delegate important tasks with the goal of increasing efficiency. As the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts noted, an executive chef often acts as a mediator between the restaurant owners, back-of-house staff and front-of-house staff. This position means that he or she will often need to depend on the sous chef to carry out important tasks in the kitchen while he or she is busy elsewhere. Communication should be constant – simply giving an order and expecting it to be carried out to perfection is not effective delegation. The executive chef should look for ways to support his or her staff.
When things get tough, morale in the kitchen may start to fade. As that happens, it's up to the executive chef to lead by example. A bored, out-of-touch leader will only inspire boredom in his or her workers. However, when cooks see real passion for the work from their leader, they'll be inspired to succeed. Work It Daily suggested that passion is contagious. For executive chefs, that means leaving personal problems at home and coming to work prepared to do the best job possible.
Leaders need to listen to their workers just as often as they speak to them. Brent Gleeson, a former Navy SEAL and motivational speaker, writing for Forbes Magazine, explained that leaders need to think about the questions they ask their workers. If, for instance, an executive chef implements a new routine for food prep, he or she should look for feedback from the other cooks and chefs to fully understand if the intended goals are being achieved. Setting aside time to ask questions and thoughtfully listen to the answers is the sign of a great leader.
Just as passion is contagious, so is positivity. Leaders who give in to negative emotions usually don't last long in leadership roles. Joe Griffin, writing for Entrepreneur Magazine, noted that leaders should expect to fail sometimes. They also need to learn from those failures so as not to repeat mistakes. Kitchens are chaotic work environments, and sometimes unexpected hiccups occur. By maintaining a positive attitude, executive chefs can steer their crews past the rocks and back into clear waters.
The Desire to Learn
The Reluctant Chef reported that many executive chefs have a bachelor's degree in culinary arts, in addition to years of experience in restaurant kitchens. Some chefs even acquire master's degrees in specific disciplines. But that doesn't mean chefs can stop learning. They should strive to keep up with the latest trends in cuisine, restaurant management and kitchen safety. By constantly striving to become better, executive chefs are guaranteed to stay at the top of their game.
When in possession of these executive chef leadership skills, you can't fail. Leading by example means listening carefully to the opinions of others, sharpening important skills, being a beacon of passion and positivity, and having a keen eye for safety.