Cooks prepare food at restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, hospitals, large companies and other settings. Their duties are dependent on the type and size of the establishment they work in. Depending on the employer, some cooks have the opportunity to create new dishes and make improvements to existing dishes.
Restaurant cooks typically prepare a larger variety of foods when compared to fast-food cooks or cafeteria cooks. They create entrees, soups, salads, side dishes, desserts and other types of food. They often use a variety of cooking equipment such as grills, ovens, broilers, pots and pans, knives and slicers. They're often required to perform at a high standard while working at a fast-pace.
Many restaurants have designated cooks such as fry, grill, soup and vegetable cooks. Large restaurants typically utilize a team of cooks and each worker is given a specific station and prepares specific types of foods.
Short-order cooks are typically employed in restaurants and coffee shops that require food to be prepared quickly. Fast-food restaurant cooks usually work with a limited selection of food items. Institution and cafeteria cooks work in hospitals, schools, businesses and other settings. Usually, they prepare an extensive amount of food, based on a small number of entrees, side dishes and desserts.
Often, grill cooks prepare a variety of foods, including meats and vegetables in different styles. Some grill cooks are highly specialized. They need special training in the techniques of cooking meat in order to cook meats to the specifications of customers. Some grill cooks are also required to fry or bake foods.
Head restaurant cooks supervise the other kitchen employees, determine food requirements and order the appropriate supplies. Some head cooks also plan menus and decide food portions. They're also responsible for uniform quality and presentation of meals.
The duties performed by cooks vary by the work environment and the employer. However, typically they're responsible to perform a variety of tasks including:
- Cook food based on recipes or personal experience
- Broil, bake, roast and steam meats, vegetables and fish
- Create bread, cakes and pastries
- Test food to make sure it has been properly cooked
- Determine food portions for meals
- Assist other cooks during busy periods
- Assist in determining the quantity of food supplies required
- Some cooks may help supervisors in planning menus, including for special events
- Some cooks may keep records and accounts
- Inspect food preparation and service areas to ensure they meet safety and sanitary standards
Many restaurants and other settings have modern equipment, air conditioning and spacious work areas. Some kitchens, particularly those located in old buildings, often include smaller work areas and don't have the quality work environment provided in newer buildings.
During peak dining hours, restaurant kitchens usually become fast paced environments. Cooks need to be able to handle the pressure and also effectively communicate with other employees during the rush periods. Also, they usually stand for long periods of time and work close to hot grills and ovens and lift heavy pots.
Cooks may be scheduled to work in the early morning hours, late in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. Often variable work schedules are available.
Cooks must be effective at working as part of a team. Being able to communicate in popular foreign languages with other employees is helpful. In addition, a keen sense of taste and smell are also important in the profession.
Typically, about two-thirds of cooks work at restaurants and food services settings and approximately 15% are employed at institutions. Approximately one-third of restaurant cooks work part-time. Employment of cooks is projected to increase at about the average growth rate for all types of employment. A lot of the job growth is projected to be provided by causal dining restaurants. Competition is expected to be high for restaurant cook positions in upscale restaurants, due mainly to slower growth in this employment area.
Shown below in descending order, are the employment opportunities for cooks based on government statistics:
- Fast-food restaurants
- Institutions and cafeterias
- Short-order cooks
- Head cooks
Cooking Schools, Certification, and Licensing
The majority of cook positions require very little or no training or education in the field. Most entry-level restaurant cook positions do not require a high school diploma. However, a high school diploma can be helpful for those that seek to advance in their career. The vast majority of cooks are provided with on-the-job training. Vocational schools offer training programs which usually include training in cooking techniques, sanitation and safety and food handling guidelines.
Usually, head cooks must have several years of training and many years of experience. Employers hiring advanced cooks usually want candidates to have formal cooking school training in programs which last from a few months to a couple of years. Typically, the shorter programs offer training in basic cooking procedures including baking, grilling and broiling. The programs also offer training in food handling and sanitation procedures and nutrition.
Long term programs provide training for employment in upscale restaurants. These programs offer a certificate or a degree. The curriculums provide training in various types of specialities, advanced cooking techniques and a variety of cooking styles.
Culinary programs provide plenty of hands-on learning in kitchens. The programs also train students in purchasing and inventory methods, nutrition, menu planning and food storage procedures. Some of the culinary programs also include a solid foundation in food service management, inventory software, computer accounting and banquet service.
Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Labor with culinary schools, trade unions and industry associations provide apprenticeship programs. Also, the American Culinary Federation sponsors apprenticeship programs across the nation. Some food service management companies, hotels and restaurant chains offer paid internships and summer employment for those initiating their cooking careers. Sometimes internships provide opportunities for cooks to be accepted into formal chef training programs.
The primary employers of cooks are restaurants, hotels, casual dining settings, fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. Also, numerous cooks are employed in school cafeterias and hospitals.
Schools for Cooks are listed in the Browse Schools Section.