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Starting a new head chef job. Tips?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Greetings to all chefs and food enthusiasts. I am a new member on this board. After speaking to a few friends and realizing that i don't have any real 'foodie' friends, i decided to join this board in order to have discussions with other chefs. First, a bit about myself:


I'm 26 years old. I've been cooking in professional environments since i was 15. I've been taking it seriously since i was 24. In mid 2013, i got my diploma in professional cooking. After that, i applied to work at what is considered one of Montreal's best restaurants. Since then, it's been very easy to find work in Montreal. Today, i got hired at a French bistro... as head chef no less, and to be honest, i am scared!


My biggest concern is staff not accepting my authority. This happens to me quite often. Due to my impressive resume, i often get hired as 'chef de partie' or 'sous-chef' Now upon entering a new workplace i often notice that i'm one of the youngest at 26 years old. So i have cooks in their 30's and 40's who have been at a given restaurant much longer than me, who have more life experience than me, who are getting paid less than me, and who now have to accept my direction. Ego's often flare up and result in yelling matches in the kitchen. I must avoid this at all costs, and i don't know how. I don't know how to direct people who have been doing the job way longer than me. It always comes across as "This guy thinks he knows everything" when in reality im just trying to do what im being paid for... which is delegate and run the kitchen. Obviously, everyone wants to protect their position, and most people want to move up and find it difficult to accept a chef that gets hired from outside the restaurant. 


I need some good solid advice on how to enter a new workplace as the head chef, earn everyones respect and learn how to work in their environment simultaneously. 


Culinarily i'm pretty well rounded. I have all of the qualifications to do this job. However i also welcome any advice on how to learn and execute a new menu. During my first month at a new place, i always tend to panic a little bit during a rush. It usually stays that way until i get comfortable. In this case, i don't have time to get comfortable. I need to show everyone that i can do this job from day 1 and not be dependant on others. After all, i am their new chef. They must respect me.


Thank you in advance for the advice and support! 

post #2 of 10
Welcome Victor, you have come to a good place. Congrats on the new position, dont be scared, be excited.

A question or 2 for you. Is the place doing well and running smooth now? How and why did the former chef leave? Are the costs currently in line? Is the menu fresh or stale? Details please.

Dont be scared, be excited, positive, mature for your years. Dont yell, argue, get in pissing matches. Observe the staff. Pick out and reward the good. Give professional direction, calmly. Start going all hells kitchen on them right off and you will get a battle. However, dont let anything go, not 1 crumb. Above all remain calm and professional. Loosing it in a rush? Be the eye of the storm, calm. You dont have to have every answer, you just have to make sure you approve the answer. You probly have some good people there, use them, support them, treat them with dignity, get them on your side. Earn their respect. True, they must respect you, if you deserve it, earn it, cause if you dont you got an almost impossible task. Best of luck. Give us some more detail and everyone here will help all they can.
post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hey Lagom, Thank you for the reply. 


I am very excited to start this next chapter in my career. I still have to work on nipping that fear in the butt though. To answer your questions, yes, the place is very successful. It's opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has clients coming in and out all the time. It's a 35 seater. Very small restaurant, with very loyal and returning customers. The former chef got fired. Apparently she was lazy, did only the bare minimum, and never worked on the line like the owner(s) wanted. She stayed in the prep area and refused to work the busiest hours. (Sat and Sun brunch)  I do believe that the food costing is established, however i have the necessary skills to cost a menu if it's necessary. The menu  consists of seasonal, local ingredients. During our interview, the owner stressed simple perfection. Everything from the mayonnaise to the bread they use is made in-house. So definitely not stale. He also stressed that he wanted me to develop 'signature plates' which was music to my ears. I'm comfortable with all these circumstances. I have the availability, the passion the drive. I'm just worried about the rest of the staff and really earning their respect. 

post #4 of 10

Just a quick comment (okay maybe not so quick). 

Compared to the previous chef you may already be better. 

Work the line, show them you are humble. 

I like to think that regardless of the position a chef needs to know how to cook and stick to their roots. Lead by example , give compliments when things are done correctly, or are well done. 


Work the line , show them that aside from the fact you are the leader, you are also a cook, and can do the job. 

Also ask your cooks what they think of the job, how certain things can be changed, fixed, or improved. 

Show them you are their to work with them. 


I think in order to earn respect you must show the staff, that even though you are superior (in position) you are still willing to take advice, listen, and learn from them as well. Like i said humility goes a long way, especially when dealing with cooks who are far older and have more experience. 


You cant make them like you or respect you, respect must be earned. 

Even though in theory you may find earning ones respect hard, i feel that if one is passionate about what they do, as well as organized, well mannered, and humble it can spread throughout the kitchen and contaminate the rest. In kitchens i have worked at if the chef as a lazy bloat, who was messy, couldnt lead as well as lacked passion and or drive the entire kitchen could crash and burn in a matter of minutes during service, unless one brave soul could take the wheel and help staff get through service. But i have also worked in kitchens where the chef was well humored, respectful to others, well educated, well mannered, funny, and a joy to be around , that the rest of the kitchen worked like a well oiled machine. We would laugh, play around, help one another, and service would go by like a breeze, we enjoyed one anothers company and the leader enoyed her job as well as was just as honored to work with us as we were to work with her. 


I believe that even though in order to lead you require knowledge, talent, and skill you also require a positive attittude as well as passion, drive, and willingness to hear others and learn from others. 


Im sure you will be fine, just give it some time. Relax, and try to get to know your staff, you may end up being pleasantly surprised with them and yourself. 

Edited by KaiqueKuisine - 1/6/14 at 3:39pm

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.



Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.


post #5 of 10

Since you’re new and entering their domain, my advice would be to win them over with kindness and respect, however don’t let them view your kindness as a weakness. As you get to bond with your new crew you’re going to have one or two people test your confidence and ability to lead. I would immediately look for new applicants to be ready to make any necessary changes, and believe me there will be a need to make some changes when the time comes. I would scout out whom if any aren’t on my team and use them as an example to make any changes. The big question your older staff may have is if you have the ability to make challenging changes in your new kitchen, allow them to test your management skills by taking the worst employee and terminating their employment, the other will most likely see that you are not weak at all and stay in line.


I have 40 years of experience in commercial kitchens, many of which as an executive chef. I presently own two very busy restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and still work daily in my kitchens. I have a very good crew and we have fun doing what we all love to do COOK, however when someone comes in hung over or late, they do get sent home. I employ 60 people in my businesses and at times I have to do things that matter to the restaurant as a whole and not necessarily my personal feelings towards people. I hope this advice helps you somewhat. Be strong, be likable and above all be the Boss and not their friend. Best of Luck.

Kenneth Tanasy

Chef / Owner


Kenneth Tanasy

Chef / Owner

post #6 of 10
Implant your ideals with specials quickly ease the staff to your style don't be to agressive with the cooks they know the place well already lead by example and show your not weak by letting standards slip and always be busy the exec is always the first one in and the last one out
post #7 of 10

Hey Victor,



  I am in the very same boat you are, and I was wondering the same exact thing. This is essentially my second head chef position, the first being an executive chef position for a relais and chateaux in a rural area.


  In my first attempt things did not go the way I wanted them to go. It being such a small kitchen I only had one other chef working with me, and while we were friends beforehand, it turned sour really quickly. I did not assert myself as the boss, rather I completely took the buddy buddy road. I blame this on my sunny disposition. I like to laugh and have fun, but I needed to draw the line, and I failed to do so. That is completely on me! I agree with my whole heart the advice given by others in this forum. It is easier said than done to achieve the fine line between co-operative easy goer and stone heart boss.


  I just could not get ahead with the one other chef. Not for lack of trying! I wanted to replace my sous chef, but I was shot down by our general manager. I argued the fact that because I received the job that my sous chef wanted, they would never agree with me, and fall in line. That they would actively make my job harder, and said person did.


  In the end I gave my notice because I simply was not happy. I am however, happy to report, that it was the absolute best decision I have ever made in my career. Since I updated my resume with my first executive job, the offers have been pouring in! I was able to actively sit back and pick the perfect job, find the right area, and of course the right amount of money.


  I am taking what I learned in the first go of my executive position as a complete learning experience. I am walking into my new position with what I believe to be the right idea, and the correct way to effectively execute my position. I have gained a new found confidence, and I know I will be just what this company needs. Second time is a charm...right?


  In summary, I believe you just need to experience the situation, and try to make the best decision for your specific task. Be the one person that doesn't tire, doesn't lose their cool, doesn't forget, and more importantly do by example. Take a step back and remind yourself of who your best chefs were. Take pieces of the best and worst chefs you have worked under, and build yourself into a Frankenstein-ish freak of culinary nature. Remember, you were chosen to lead, so do just that.


  Thanks for opening this line of advice, as I am sure many other peers need the valuable information. Good luck on your new position, and wish me luck too.


  Warm Regards,


Chef Chris Winslow 

post #8 of 10
Very good advice which was shared in here. I would offer only one idea, sit down with your new team over a meal. Always try and bond when entering a new leadership position.
post #9 of 10
Show respect to them but make it very clear that a kitchen is not a democracy. There is 1 leader weather they agree with you or not. I've taken the time to explain to young cocky linecooks that one day you will have earned this position and how would you feel having a punk kid question you? Just like a boat, right or wrong you don't question the captain. If you can't deal with that there is always someone looking for your job
post #10 of 10

If it were me...


I would get onboard with every station and have them show me.


I would create a set of values defining who we are as a kitchen, as a team.


I would not change the whole menu all at once.  Target the low selling items and ask why.


The rest of the stuff you might already know.  Food cost, purchasing, cleaning, etc.


Good luck!

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