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Executive Chef Interview Questions

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  1. How do you find a balance between expressing your menu creativity and hitting food cost goals? See answer
  2. In your opinion, which aspect of prime cost, food or labor, is easier to control? See answer
  3. How would you characterize your relationship with vendors and food reps? See answer
  4. Do you take an active role in purchasing and receiving at your restaurant? See answer
  5. What background do you have in relation to food safety standards and best practices in food handling? See answer
  6. Restaurant kitchens exist in a highly competitive labor market. How do you attract and retain skilled team members?
  7. What chef do you admire most and why?
  8. What strategies do you use to control the quality of food prepared for customers?
  9. What qualities do you look for when hiring a new staff member?
  10. How do you handle special diets and ingredient substitutions within your menu?
  11. How do you feel about seasonal changes to menus?
  12. What is your favorite dish to cook and why?
  13. What does it take to run a successful kitchen?
  14. How important do you think it is to keep up to date on new trends in restaurants?
  15. Do you feel it is important to teach your staff new methods of preparing food?
  16. What is your process for creating a menu or adding new items to an already existing menu?
  17. What is your preferred management style and why?
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6 Executive Chef Interview Questions and Answers

Q:

How do you find a balance between expressing your menu creativity and hitting food cost goals?

A:

Without proper controls, food costs can easily get out of hand in a busy kitchen. A number of factors, such as uncontrolled waste, can affect an executive chef’s ability to maintain a profitable cost percentage. In general, food service operations aim for a food cost of between 25 and 40 percent. A skilled executive chef knows how to balance creativity and a menu mix to hit a monthly cost goal.

What to look for in an answer:

  • Knowledge of food cost percentage complexity
  • Understanding of putting cost control over creativity
  • Food cost addressed in many ways daily

Example:

“Cost controls are a daily battle. While I entered the industry for creativity, I often have to put cost concerns above my artistry, unfortunately. This is a sacrifice I have made for the good of the restaurant, though.”

Q:

Restaurant kitchens exist in a highly competitive labor market. How do you attract and retain skilled culinarians?

A:

Food service outlets are often in a position of competing for a limited number of skilled workers. Many times, executive chefs will identify team members with potential and promote from within. Proper training and cross-training coupled with advancement potential and competitive wages will go a long way toward retaining motivated and qualified kitchen employees. A quality executive chef candidate will understand the importance of continuous training and team-building.

What to look for in an answer:

  • Understanding the importance of station cross-training
  • Appreciation for promoting from within the team
  • The importance of rewarding exemplary contributions

Example:

“Cross-training among stations allows us to identify every team members’; strengths, promote from within and give each individual their best opportunity for success.”

Q:

In your opinion, which aspect of prime cost, food or labor, is easier to control?

A:

Obviously, there is no right answer here. What is most important is an understanding of prime cost. How fluctuating food and labor costs can impact the business, and how they can be manipulated to improve profits, should be very familiar to an experienced executive chef candidate. At some point in the applicant’s career, he or she would have been tasked with finding ways to reduce labor and food costs.

What to look for in an answer:

  • Understanding the manipulation of costs to increase profit
  • Food or labor cost reduction experience
  • Ability to read profit and loss to identify problems

Example:

“Reducing labor is the easiest but not always the most practical way to cut costs. However, there are many small ways to improve food costs, such as shopping for vendors with cheaper prices and using cost-efficient kitchen tools and preparation methods.”

Q:

How would you characterize your relationship with vendors and food reps?

A:

An executive chef needs to maintain a good rapport with valuable vendors. Having a relationship with salesmen from a variety of merchants allows chefs to comparison shop for products and secure the best deals for things like meat, fish, produce and dry goods. Also, open communication and interaction with food reps keep a chef in the know about specials and new products.

What to look for in an answer:

  • Availability for consultations with food vendors
  • Interest in exploring new products
  • Willingness to spend time comparing prices

Example:

“I enjoy making time to speak with vendor reps so that I can keep abreast of new products and current pricing.”

Q:

Do you take an active role in purchasing and receiving at your restaurant?

A:

Many people in a restaurant kitchen may play a role in purchasing and receiving. However, at the end of the day, the executive chef is ultimately responsible for the success of these transactions. A candidate should be expected to actively participate in purchasing and receiving, or at the very least closely watch over the people to whom he or she has delegated those responsibilities.

What to look for in an answer:

  • Hands-on approach to purchasing and receiving
  • Development of purchasing and receiving and ordering sheets
  • Close oversight of people tasked with purchasing and receiving

Example:

“In the past, I have either handled the purchasing and receiving myself or had a trusted sous chef handle those responsibilities with my guidance.”

Q:

What background do you have in relation to food safety standards and best practices in food handling?

A:

A candidate's response to this question can help you understand how well they know the basics of food handling and safety in the kitchen. A chef's foundational knowledge indicates the degree to which they have expertise in their craft. The candidate should demonstrate respect and understanding of food washing basics and meat handling and preparation.

The candidate's response should emphasize:

  • Certifications
  • Knowledge of food preparation practices and appropriate temperatures
  • Prior experience

A response to this question may look like this:

Example:

"I have taken the basic courses on food handling safety and hold all my current certifications. With more than five years of experience as an executive chef, I have trained numerous sous chefs on the most effective practices in washing and handling fruits and vegetables. I also prepare all meet in accordance with food safety guidelines and temperature recommendations. Although I have had customers that make requests for food to be prepared in special ways that sometimes don't meet standards, I make sure to advise all kitchen staff and hospitality that what we serve must be safe according to state guidelines and restaurant best practices."

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