A job in a restaurant kitchen comes with great sacrifices, hours of hard work and extensive preparation for the next stages of the career. Most professional chefs have started their culinary journey as prep cooks in local restaurants, chopping onions and sorting ingredients for the dinner menus. It may not be a dream job for an aspiring chef, but it does offer plenty of experience and necessary training to pursue a career in the culinary field. If you are tempted to try your talents in a restaurant or bistro kitchen, here are the most important features of a successful candidate listed in a prep cook job description.
Short prep cook job description
The prep cook (also known as a food preparation worker) is an individual who assists the chef in preparing the food, maintains the cooking environment clean and safe for all staff members and takes on culinary tasks as they arise. The job requires physical endurance as well as mental determination and involves working in stress conditions for most of the time. Also, the working schedule is quite hectic, requiring working in shifts, during holidays, nights and early mornings.
Tasks and responsibilities
The tasks and responsibilities for a prep chef differ in accordance with the number of employees working in the kitchen, the type of restaurant/bistro/cafeteria in which they work and the specific daily needs of every business. Yet, there are a number of duties and responsibilities that make the prep cook job description quite often. We have gathered them all below for a better understanding of the employers’ expectations regarding this position.
- Measures ingredients and prepares them in accordance to chef’s specifications;
- Washes and peels ingredients in order for them to be used in different meals;
- Cuts and portions different types of meat according to specifications;
- Prepares different types of food from the menu, following carefully the recipes;
- Makes stock soups to be used during cooking process;
- Prepares drinks and cocktails according to chef’s specifications;
- Portions the food and prepares the dishes for plating;
- Packages take-away food for clients;
- Places food trays under food warmers, so that the food arrives in good conditions at the table;
- Distributes the plates to be served to the waiting staff;
- Accepts or rejects ingredients from food suppliers, based on their appearance and quality;
- Keeps track of ingredient quantities and ensures there are always enough for the day/week;
- Stores ingredients in dedicated containers, making sure that they are best preserved;
- Informs superiors when the ingredients stock is getting low or when the kitchen tools do not work properly;
- Cleans and sanitizes the working surfaces, tools, utensils and working area;
- Carefully supervises the food temperature and the temperature from cooling rooms, to ensure that the ingredients kept are kept at the appropriate temperature;
- Swipes the remaining food from plates and puts them in the dishwasher/washes them;
- Vacuums dining area and washes the kitchen floor before closing.
The education requirements for a prep cook job are minimum. Since the job is an entry-level, no specialized education is requested. In fact, many prep chefs start a culinary school after being employed in a professional kitchen, as a means of climbing up the hierarchical ladder. The high-school degree is not compulsory, but more and more prep cook job descriptions list it as a desirable degree. Culinary art courses are available during high-school programs, so they should be attended when willing to pursue a career in the field. Also home economics has a section devoted to cooking from where students can gain a lot of insight into the kitchen affairs.
Post secondary education or associate’s degree program in culinary arts can increase the chances of landing a prep cook job. These programs cover food preparation techniques, sanitary regulations, food storage, nutrition notions, and hospitality and food safety skills, notions which will be extremely useful in this job.
Experience is not a major requirement in the prep cook job description. While it is preferable to work with people who have done this before, chefs usually look for those candidates who have the necessary talent and skills to survive in a restaurant kitchen. In many cases, the prep cook job is the first step to take in order to climb on top of the kitchen’s hierarchy. Therefore, everyone is prepared to teach the prep chef the kitchen basics and help the individual accommodate with the hectic rhythm of a professional kitchen.
Prep cook Salary
The position is entry-level, therefore many prep cook job descriptions suggest a minimum wage for interested candidates. The average compensation is $10.07 per hour. Prep cooks working full time at this rate, accumulate a wage of $20,950 per year. However, there are variations in salary depending on a variety of factors, such as the employment setting, geographic region and the overall experience of the employee. The lowest reported wage for a prep chef is $7.85 per hour, while the highest remuneration for the same position is $13.93.
The prep cook’s schedule is dictated by the hours during which the kitchen is opened. This means that the perfect candidate for the job is willing to work in shifts, during night-time, in weekends and on holidays. Also, they may be required to get up in the morning in order to meet suppliers and store the ingredients in proper conditions. Usually, the prep cook is one of the first persons to enter the kitchen and is one of the last to get out of it.
Prep cooks are sought for, mainly because chefs cannot prepare ingredients, cook and plate high volumes of food in a short amount of time. Therefore, there is a constant need for people to prepare the ingredients in order to be cooked. Furthermore, the prep cook position is an entry-level job and occupants are more likely to aspire for a chef position once they have the required experience. So, there will always be new job openings for prep cooks. In addition to that, it is estimated that until 2020, 84,000 new prep cook jobs will be created.
Prep cooks are usually promote to a junior chef position, when the skills, experience and education requirements are met.
While the requirements regarding education and experience in the culinary field are rather scarce in a prep chef job description, the employees have a number of professional skills listed when selecting candidates. They are mostly basic culinary skills which can be improved along the way, if the candidate is chosen to work in a professional kitchen.
- Knowledge of kitchen tools and utensils – a proper knowledge of the kitchen tools and utensils is required in order to perform the specific tasks and requirements. Usually, a short introduction to the available equipment is done when hired, but each prep cook candidate must know the basics.
- Good coordination – the prep cook works with sharp utensils, pans with high temperatures, steaming pots, etc. The perfect candidate must coordinate his actions so as to avoid any type of hazards.
- Good learning skills – this is the first step in a culinary career, so learning to reach new levels is essential. Prep cooks must have their eyes and ears open and learn along the way from both what they are told and shown, but also by observing the other members of the staff working.
- Ability to work following verbal instructions – in most cases, there is little time to perform all tasks, so all commands and instructions are given verbally. The prep cook must listen and remember all tasks and complete them according to the spoken requirements.
- Work well under pressure – working in a professional kitchen requires perfect stress management because most of the activity is done under pressure and under strict deadlines. Tense situations may occur and it is preferable that the prep cook knows exactly how to act in such moments.
Working in a professional kitchen requires much more than specific education, training and experience. In order to become a good prep cook (and eventually a good chef), one needs a great amount of talent and perseverance, alongside these next personal skills and aptitudes.
- Passion – in the culinary industry, passion for what you are doing is essential. The harsh working environment and the variable schedule can be handled only by those who are truly passionate by their job and take pride in their results.
- Positive attitude – a prep cook is part of a team, so a positive attitude will increase team’s confidence in them and will create a good working environment.
- Good communication skills – the kitchen’s staff works mainly under pressure, so conveying the message clearly, concise and in a polite manner is essential for good collaboration and perfect overall results.
- Patience and perseverance – even though much of the work is done in an alert rhythm, the prep chef must keep their calm and work diligently for a good result. When things are coming out the way they should, the prep chef must keep trying until the results are raising up to the standards.
- Great endurance – most of the prep cook work is done standing, moving their arms and lifting and carrying heavy weights, therefore great physical endurance is necessary.
The prep cook job is an entry level, requires a lot of work and usually the pay check is not extremely appealing. However, this is the gate-way for every culinary career, so every aspiring chef needs to go through a prep cook period. It will help them refine their skills, improve their technique and learn directly from the chefs the best ways to combine ingredients. Therefore, it is suitable for persons with a passion for cooking and great talent in preparing and combining food. The long list of tasks and requirements from the prep cook job description should not be intimidating if you know cooking is what you want to do all your life.