In an institutional kitchen, a first cook supervises the preparation of large quantities of food for a population such as students or inmates. This position requires at least one year of supervisory experience in a kitchen where large quantities of food are prepared, as well as culinary training, preferably with a certificate or degree from a culinary school. People spend a lot of time on their feet in hot, chaotic environments, and this work can have irregular hours.
Depending on how the chain of command is structured in a given workplace, the first cook may supervise the entire staff or work under another supervisor. This person is responsible for hiring and firing employees, creating schedules, and assisting employees who require time off or other workplace accommodations. The first cook is typically required to have a sanitation certification and audits the workplace to ensure that everyone is following proper food safety precautions, as well as establishing policies to keep the kitchen safe and clean.
The menu is planned the first cook in some institutions, while it is passed down supervisors in others. The first cook must create ingredient lists in order to place supply orders, plan ahead for producing menu items, and supervise food preparation, safe handling, and storage. First cooks may also be tasked with figuring out how to repurpose leftovers and preparing special meals for people with special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free or vegetarian meals.
The first cooks usually arrive early in the morning to assess the situation in the kitchen, develop a day’s plan of action, and meet with other kitchen staff, such as the baking and dessert crews. The supervisor assigns tasks to employees as they arrive for work, may cook, and walks the kitchen floor to keep an eye on them while they work. If there are any complaints or concerns about the kitchen, this employee may be asked to participate in meetings to resolve the problem. The first cook is in charge of inventorying supplies, placing orders, and training personnel when others are busy preparing meals.
Supervisors must be able to coordinate with their staff, which necessitates good people skills. Tolerance for extremely busy workplaces is essential, as are multitasking skills, as first cooks must keep track of multiple dishes, employees, and kitchen areas while on the job.