‘Routine chaos’ – is a term that perhaps most accurately describes the daily life of a chef. Many aspects of a chef’s work are routine, as in doing prep, doing orders and cooking meals. But no day is like another. Unexpected things are happening every day, ranging from late deliveries and staff issues to special orders and late food. What happens if the Itame sauce is running low just before dinnertime? The chef will have to deal with it – executive chefs are essentially fire fighters.
An executive chef doesn’t just cook, but organises, orders, oversees, communicates and more. The actual cooking is actually the least of his problems.
Many people still don’t realise that even though a restaurant only opens at noon, chefs still come early to the kitchen. After making sure that every dishwasher, line chef and sous chef has actually turned up to work to do the prep for the day, the executive chef will need to do orders, a kitchen check and some office work before touching a single sauce pan.
Once the first tasks are executed, the executive chef will need to make sure that the sous chefs are getting the kitchen ready, the steaks are getting prepared, the chicken and the vegetables are cleaned and everything else is ready for service. However, on an average day it usually isn’t. Most days there is already at least one problem that needs to be solved before the restaurant even opens.
Once the first guests arrive in the restaurant, the chefs have already been working just as long as their customers they are feeding. The difference is that instead of getting a break, the chefs have to actually start getting orders out. Chefs don’t need a watch, as they know when the waiters are disappearing from the kitchen, the restaurant is about to get busy.
Depending on the restaurant, some chefs might be literally under fire until the last orders are served. However, most chefs will get a break throughout the afternoon. If you are the executive chef though, you will have to fill in wherever there is a gap in an emergency – and usually there is one every day somewhere.
This is usually the busiest time of the day, starting from around 6:00 pm until that one last dessert. Coordination and communication are the key activities for the executive chef throughout this period. Chances are high that the kitchen will run out of a sauce, ingredient or garnish. The chef has to oversee the entire operation and fix where he or she can. Once the kitchen is closed and the team is cleaning up, the chef has mentally already moved on to the next day. Does the menu need adjustments? Has someone called in sick? Are the orders ready to go out?
The work of an executive chef is often compared to the tasks of an orchestra conductor, but simply more chaotic. The life of an executive chef is a fine balance between controlled precision work and the hectic juggling of fire.