The format for the hit television show Top Chef involves chefs competing against the clock and each other to create award-winning dishes that meet certain requirements. This is a dramatic, yet somewhat realistic, representation of the roles and responsibilities of a real-life top chef. If you think you want to learn how to become a top chef, you must first understand the duties and personal characteristics required for the job.
A Top Chef's Multiple Responsibilities
First and foremost, a top chef manages a large kitchen. Typically, top chefs oversee everything that happens in the main kitchen of a fine restaurant, large hotel, cruise ship or country club.
The first duty of a top chef, of course, is to exhibit above-average cooking knowledge and skills. While great cooking abilities can be learned, the creative nature of great cooks is often something they have demonstrated throughout their lives.
The responsibilities of a top chef often start with creating dishes and menus inspired by current food trends and the discriminating tastes of a sophisticated clientele. The very best top chefs are constantly tweaking and improving their culinary offerings.
Top chef roles also include hiring, training and supervising a dozen or more kitchen personnel. A good head chef is able to develop and maintain a healthy working relationship with each of his staff members. This allows for mutual respect as the top chef assigns and oversees individual food preparation and cooking tasks.
Top chef roles often extend to the business management side of the food operation. This includes ordering food, equipment and supplies. A top chef must make sure that purchases stay within a designated budget and meet high quality standards.
Finally, a top chef must preside over everything that happens in the kitchen from the time a customer places an order until his food is delivered to the table. Any compliments or complaints about the food will ultimately reflect back to the person in charge of the kitchen: the top chef.
Personal Characteristics of a Successful Top Chef
Do you have the personal traits and abilities needed to be a successful top chef? One of the most important skills for the job is good stress management. In order to manage multiple employees in a fast-paced environment, you must stay calm and focused. The way you react to customer complaints; accidents or mistakes in the kitchen; or the frenzied rush of a holiday weekend sets the tone for how the other employees will perform.
Your ability to handle the varied responsibilities is also determined by your organizational skills. As a leader, you must manage all of your top chef roles at the same time. You must cope with the supply and demand aspects of the food side of your operation while keeping a close eye on employee performance and customer needs. If you can make quick decisions and adjustments in these areas, while constantly maintaining the quality of the food you serve, you have a good chance of being a successful top chef.
You must also possess certain physical characteristics. You must be strong enough to withstand long hours of standing in the high temperatures typically found in a large kitchen. In addition, you must be able to handle the physical demands of preparing and cooking food all day.
Perhaps the most important character trait for a successful top chef is humility. There is no time or room for big egos in an award-winning kitchen. Appreciation for your cooking and leadership talents will come naturally if you can learn to treat each and every member of your staff as an equal partner in the kitchen.
How to Become a Top Chef
Stress management and organizational skills are necessary at every level of employment within the food service industry. So the best way to find out if you are well suited for the demands of this business is to find work within the restaurant environment. Often, a job as a dishwasher or waiter is the first step to becoming a top chef.
If you decide you like the food business, you are ready to take the next step. You can either try to move up the employment ladder to top chef status through on-the-job training or you can take culinary classes that lead to a certificate, degree or diploma. The most successful top chefs combine on-the-job training with education at a top culinary school. The best culinary programs will provide a great amount of training in a restaurant environment.