The Role of the Modern Head Chef by Kate Lawlor

By definition a head chef  “is a highly skilled professional cook who oversees the operations of a restaurant or dining facility. They are responsible for the food that comes out of a kitchen from conception to execution”

As Ireland’s food scene expands and evolves , so too should  the role of the head chef  in actively  encouraging and mentoring the next generation of chefs  and this has never been so important as today , for our industry is facing a huge shortage of qualified  graduates from professional cookery courses every year. No longer is the head chefs main concern “ the food  “ but nowadays it is about  how do I hold onto chefs or  how do I attract the quality chefs to my kitchen to ensure the best quality food is produced .

The industry as a whole has a bad name for long hours and poor pay , you have to serve your time as an apprentice, with an ever changing food scene the kitchen brigade is beginning to change too, chefs are now on first name terms, hats and neck ties are only for show and a more casual look is on trend , this too I believe is being reflected in how the modern head chef needs to treat the junior chefs.  The days of shouting, roaring and throwing things across the kitchen need to be well behind us  as we need to encourage and teach the new chefs that are coming thru so as  to keep them in the industry.

Kitchens are melting pots,  they are hot and the pressure can be very intense.  I as a head chef always believed I’d get more from my chefs if they worked an  8 hour shift , 5 days a week focussing on their talents and working with their weaknesses.  Working that way saw  loyalty between me and the chefs  established and over the years great friendships and sense of pride when they would pop in and visit after moving on .

This model worked for me and may not work for others. If we are to encourage more into our industry ,the young talents coming through need to be encouraged and championed and not worked into early burnout and  disillusionment  with the industry . As head chefs we have a responsibility to change how our industry is perceived  and to encourage more  to get into it and this has to come from the top.