Modern skills for smart chefs


As a head chef, operations manager or even CEO you can ask for a great salary. Let’s modernise your skills for the current job, and think ahead to a career beyond cooking – what needs to be stronger?

Upgrade your digital skills. You know how your phone works, but what about spreadsheets for costing recipes, checking menu profits and organising the stocktake? Learn how to interpret and download reports from a POS system, and understand online security threats. Improve your email writing, and be ready to take good photographs for marketing and training. Start to use online rostering, and maybe you’ll be one of the first chefs to use digital order screens in the kitchen?

Learn to use the latest control systems. Combi-ovens, refrigeration, power consumption, sales data, Point of Sale and more. They all have sophisticated electronic controls, and many are now connected via the ‘Internet of Things’ to a PC or an app on your phone. You can have control over almost everything - use it.

Sharpen your negotiation skills. A new chef often wants new suppliers, and you’ll do it based on an organised tender process, with rebates for volume and regular price monitoring. You’ll spend less time on price checks, and more on finding better suppliers who communicate with you electronically.

Learn how a business works. Your position is a central part of the Profit & Loss Statement, so make sure you know how to read one. If you're given a budget, make sure it's explained to you, and ask for the food cost percentages to be prepared weekly.

Learn about modern menu marketing. A clever menu not only looks and tastes good, but also maximises profitability through layout and pricing. Menus may also need to work for takeaway, online delivery services, on a digital display or on an order kiosk. If you cater for tourists, add good photos to the menu essentials.

Take a positive approach to healthy menus. Food that doesn't rely on huge amounts of sugar, fat and salt, and a ‘no problem’ approach to allergies. As the world gets fatter and less healthy, there are enormous numbers of people wanting better options. This is now standard practice in a modern kitchen.

Become a food safety expert. Food safety plans, HACCP and tighter WHS rules are all part of the landscape in a modern kitchen. Build up your skills with extra short courses, and learn about electronic temperature monitoring and control systems. You may even want to become a Food Safety Auditor for a future career move.

Understand how to reduce utility costs. Implement energy and water saving measures to reduce costs eg: kitchen equipment, equipment washing, use of chemicals, use of hot water, use of ventilation etc. A practical ‘green’ approach makes a big difference to the bottom line.

Back up your skills with Qualifications. There are many short courses available, all of which will look good when added to your CV. Check your local colleges, and the huge range on Linkedin Learning. From spreadsheets to First Aid, chocolate skills and handling conflict. The Certified Food Service Professional is an excellent short course to familiarise yourself with foodservice equipment – very good background if you are planning to do some consultancy as well.

Develop modern people skills. Build your experience with teamwork, personality types, anger-management, negotiation, delegation and effective meetings. Modern kitchens are like the United Nations, and you need the ability to work with everyone: Irish, Filipino or Italian, younger or older, gay or straight, male and female. You are a modern hero when you take the diversity that’s available and use it to create a high-performing team.

Learn how to talk to the boss. Sometimes called 'managing upwards'. Work out the best way to make your case with senior management when you need more equipment, staff changes, different work hours or even a raise. Make an appointment, prepare some written notes, be ready to talk about the financial side and sell the 'benefits' of your request.