Chefs (NOC 6321)

About this job

Chefs direct food preparation and cooking activities, as well as prepare meals and specialty foods. They work in a wide range of establishments, where meals are served to groups, from restaurants to hotels to catered events. Some chefs work in private homes and others work for large food manufacturers, where they create branded food products sold at grocery and other retail outlets.

Watch the video below to learn what a typical day is like for a chef.

Chefs must be creative, organized and good with details. They may need to manage a budget, create menus, order and check the quality of the ingredients (especially fresh produce, meat, fish and seafood), and make sure all dishes leaving the kitchen meet quality standards. 

It’s important to have good communication skills, manage and motivate kitchen staff, and be able to respond to last-minute changes or challenges. Chefs must be able to work under pressure, handle many different tasks at once, lead a team and create a positive work environment in the kitchen. Chefs must also have a high standard of personal hygiene and follow all food safety and sanitation standards.

Common job titles
  • banquet chef
  • chef / chef de cuisine / chef de partie
  • chef pâtissier / pastry chef
  • cold foods chef
  • corporate chef
  • entremetier

Duties

There are many of types of chefs.

Executive chefs:

  • Plan and organize food preparation and cooking activities of one or more restaurants, hospitals or other establishments with food services
  • Prepare and cook food on a regular basis or for special guests and functions
  • May consult with clients about weddings, banquets and specialty events
  • Plan menus and make sure food meets quality standards
  • Estimate food needs and/or estimate food and labour costs
  • Supervise the activities of sous-chefs, specialist chefs, chefs and cooks
  • Hire and fire staff
  • Arrange kitchen equipment purchases and repairs
  • Oversee kitchen operations and staff
  • Ensure a positive work culture in the kitchen

Sous-chefs:

  • Act as second-in-command and run the kitchen in the absence of the chef
  • Supervise the activities of specialist chefs, chefs, cooks and other kitchen workers
  • Show new cooking techniques and new kitchen equipment to staff
  • May plan menus, order food and kitchen supplies, and prepare and cook meals or specialty foods

Specialist chefs and chefs:

  • Prepare complete meals or specialty foods, such as pastries, sauces, soups, salads, vegetables, and dishes of meat, poultry and fish
  • Create decorative food displays for special events such as banquets, weddings or other gatherings
  • Teach cooks food preparation, cooking, plating, garnishing and presentation
  • Create new recipes and plan menus
  • May supervise cooks and other kitchen staff
  • May order food and kitchen supplies

Work environment

Chefs work in a range of establishments where meals are served to groups, including restaurants, hotels, hospitals and seniors’ homes. They may also work for catering companies, on cruise ships or private yachts, on military bases or in school cafeterias. Some chefs work in private homes or in large food manufacturing plants.

Chefs work full-time, part-time, on contract or on call. The hours may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends and holidays. The work may also be seasonal, especially at resorts. 

The work of a chef primarily takes place in a kitchen, which may be very large or quite small. Some chefs may have an office to do their administration and paperwork. Many large restaurants and institutional kitchens have modern equipment, convenient work areas and air conditioning. Older, smaller locations may have less comfortable work settings.

By law, kitchens must be well-ventilated, appropriately lit and properly equipped with sprinkler systems to protect against fires; however, even a large kitchen can feel crowded and hot during the busiest times of the day. Chefs may need to work in small areas, lift heavy objects, work near hot ovens and grills, and stand for extended periods of time.

Chefs are under constant time pressure and must make sure they follow quality, safety and sanitation guidelines. Safety is key to avoid risks, including slipping, falling, cuts and burns.

Insights from industry

While the terms chef and cook are often both used to describe a chef, industry sources say there is a difference. A cook is someone who can put together a meal by following a recipe, whereas a chef uses their formal training to create original dishes. A chef understands flavours and textures and how they go together. They are skilled in complex cooking techniques and can create recipes from scratch using fresh ingredients. A chef is more likely to have a high level of responsibility in the kitchen, which may include deciding what is on the menu. 

Chefs need to stay up to date on new culinary trends and have an idea of what customers are looking for. They need to plan menus months in advance and have a good idea of what will be popular and available. They must understand the cost of specialty items and stay within their budget. They may also need to come up with ideas if a key ingredient becomes unavailable. Since restaurant guests are concerned about how their food is grown or raised, chefs must also stay informed. 

Negotiation and people skills are important tools for a chef. Building relationships with suppliers is also an asset. Getting specialty ingredients at a reasonable price or having the first pick of popular items is key in this competitive industry.

Maintaining a solid network with other chefs, cooks and kitchen workers is an important part of building a strong career. It creates a collaborative industry where culinary professionals support each other, something industry sources say is critical for the success of the chef and the restaurant. 

Some chefs raise their profile and personal brand through social media, such as Instagram. They create a fan base by showcasing new dishes, specialties and other unique talents.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

With training and experience, sous-chefs may advance to executive chef positions. Similarly, executive chefs may progress to managerial positions in food preparation establishments. A chef may progress from a smaller kitchen to a larger establishment or may specialize in an area such as being a private chef for a high-profile businessperson or celebrity. A chef may also choose to open their own restaurant, appear on or host a cooking show, or write a cookbook.

Additional resources