Hard and Soft Job Skills a Chef Should Have: A complete list

Becoming a good chef requires a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills, like the technical aspects of cooking, must be learnt through training to pursue a culinary career. Culinary soft skills refer to how you relate to yourself and others, like quickly bouncing back from criticism and can be developed with time and effort.

You need both to become an amazing chef: While you may have a natural flair for cooking, you still need to learn the technical culinary skills to cook professionally. Soft skills, in turn, give you the edge, making you a good chef as a worker or leader if that is your ambition.

Combining your technical skill to cook well with a soft skill like having high standards for your work helps you create meals cooked and plated to perfection. You optimise your culinary skills as you do more than cope with the task, but you excel.

As a culinary trainee and beyond, a chef’s greatest strength is their lifelong commitment to fine-tuning their hard and soft skill set, creating an outstanding chef and maximising success in a culinary career.

Hard Skills a Chef Must Have.

Hard Skills, also known as technical skills for a culinary career, include the following areas:

  • you need to learn how to cook professionally and master various culinary skills.
  • You need to know how to conduct yourself in the kitchen to keep yourself, the kitchen and the food you work with safe, clean and sanitised.
  • If you aspire to become a chef in a leadership role as an executive chef or to own a restaurant or a food-related business, you also need to develop the technical skills for a management and leadership role, like drawing up budgets.

Below is a list of culinary skills, culinary-related skills and technical skills for leadership:

1. Culinary Skills.

It is a misnomer to think that there are only five or so culinary skills because the truth is that to be an outstanding chef requires much more than only a few culinary skills. Listed below are 11 essential culinary skills a good chef should have.

1. Mastering the food-making process.

To be a good chef, you must have solid knowledge and experience of the complete food-making process, which involves:

  • Food preparation: quickly and efficiently peeling and cutting vegetables for cooking and preparing salads.
  • cooking to perfection and mastering different cooking techniques.
  • plating and presenting food in visually appetising styles.

2. Mastering primary cooking methods.

These include grilling, sauté, broiling, frying, poaching, and roasting. To be a good chef, you must:

  • have a solid knowledge of each method.
  • know when to use which.
  • the steps to follow when using each.
  • build ample hands-on experience in using each.

3. Mastering advanced cooking techniques.

Once a chef has mastered the basic culinary skills, they can move on to learning more advanced culinary skills like:

  • Modern gastronomy,
  • Learning about different cuisines from around the world.
  • The science behind developing menus
  • Practising culinary from an environmental and sustainability perspective.

4. Master the theory of cooking.

A good chef must know the theory of cooking before mastering its technique. They need to know that different kinds of meat have various structural components.

This knowledge informs the kind of cooking technique best suited for cooking. For example, beef brisket (cow breast) should be slow-cooked instead of frying or grilling to allow for the time needed to break down the muscle tissue in the meat.

5. Master basic culinary skills.

A chef must become proficient in the basic culinary skills and perfect these as they progress in their careers. These include:

Preparing meat, fish and poultry to perfection.

It’s important to know, for example:

  • The best cooking temperature for the type of meat you are preparing or the timing for a rare grilled steak compared to that for a medium rare steak.  
  • The best way to prepare fish depends on the thickness and the type of fish. The wrong method could result in the fish being cooked but easily breaking.
  • The best way to prepare chicken is to cook it all through. Duck, on the other hand, must be medium rare and not cooked all the way through, or its texture will be like a piece of rubber.
Making a good stock.

You need to know, for example, that making a good stock involves the right ingredients and getting rid of all oil layers by repeatedly draining and straining, resulting in a pure and beautiful-looking stock.

Savvy in making sauces.

Most importantly is to master your bechamel (white sauce) as this is regarded as the mother of all sauces, it being the base from which other sauces are made.

A crack at working with eggs.

Knowing the different techniques for preparing eggs, for example, scramble, poach fry, and omelette.

Well-versed with fruit and vegetables.

This involves knowing things like:

  • How to cut fruit and vegetables using different cuts and make them look appetising.

Knowing, for example, that mushrooms are best fried in hot butter. If not, all the water will be released from them, and they will boil rather than fry.

6. Have skills in basic baking and working with pastry.

A good chef needs to master the primary methods involved in baking and working with pastry, even if this is not going to be their specialist area and they prefer, instead, to cook rather than bake.

7. Good knife skills to cut efficient and fast.

Knives are a chef’s most important tool. Hence it is one of the first skills a culinary trainee learns and, with time and practice, becomes a master in handling chef knives and cutting with speed and precision. A chef has to learn how to:

  • Correctly hold and control a knife to cut more quickly and efficiently.
  • Cut correctly and ensure that all your cuts are the same size to look nice and for cooking time to be the same. Julienne carrots are visually appealing when they look uniform. Potatoes cut in different sizes will mean larger pieces need longer time to cook, and smaller ones will be like mash.
  • Learn the different cutting techniques: julienne, slice, chop, dice, mince, and rough chop.

8. Have solid product knowledge.

To be a good chef, develop solid product knowledge. Know:

  • When working in a restaurant, for example, the items on the menu and the ingredients thereof, different food ingredients and what they contain, if they are gluten-free, for instance, in case you are serving someone with a gluten allergy.
  • How to work with different ingredients.
  • Which ingredients can serve as suitable substitutes for others.
  • How different ingredients are best stored.
  • Which ingredients can and can’t be stored after use.  Pastry snacks, for example, can’t be fried and used the next day. They must be eaten or chucked.
  • How different ingredients combine and interact with each other. Know, for example, how yeast reacts in flour to make it rise and ultimately create bread as yeast is a bacteria, and if you give bacteria something to feed on, it grows.

9. Develop a refined sense of taste, smell and hearing.

As the job of a chef is to create delicious meals, it is essential to have an acute awareness of what you are tasting and smelling or hearing so that you can:

  • Judge what ingredients are in food.
  • Judge whether the food’s flavour is perfect, if it needs more or less of an ingredient, or if more of another element is required to take away too much of a taste.
  • Discern the result of combining different seasonings or ingredients.
  • Smell more easily tell if a food product is off.
  • Hear if, for example, a sauce is old. With some sauces, a bubbling sound can be heard upon placing your ear close to it.

10. Knowledge of nutrition.

A good chef needs an understanding of the nutritional value of food served to clients.

This helps with:

  • Creating nutritionally well-balanced menus that include food from the different food groups.
  • Knowing what foods can cause allergic reactions and creating menus with this in mind.

11. Develop skills in food and wine pairing.

While there are food and wine pairing experts, a good chef accumulates skills in wine and food pairing, allowing them to enhance a dish’s flavour by pairing it with a particular wine.

2. Understand kitchen and culinary lingo.

A good chef knows the language of the kitchen. They know, for example:

  • That “yes chef” is an acceptance of the kitchen line of command and acknowledging that an instruction has been heard, understood, and will be carried out.
  • That mise en place is a French term meaning everything in its place and a place for everything.

3. Know how to use and care for kitchen equipment and tools.

To optimise work efficiency, a good chef is familiar with all the equipment and tools in a kitchen, like food processors, deep fryers, meat and cheese slicers and mixers. They know how to:

  • Correctly use, care for and maintain these to optimise work efficiency and prevent breakage.
  • Safely use these to prevent undue accidents.

4. Keep food and kitchen surfaces safe, clean and sanitised.

A good chef must consistently implement good sanitation practices to ensure that the kitchen is always hygienic and that the food customers eat safe and free from contamination.

A good chef is hard-wired to:

  • Regularly wipe and sanitise their work area. This is done religiously and several times a day because they are conscientious of the hazards.
  • Handle food safely and correctly. They check that the perishable and non-perishable food ingredients are safe for consumption and that food is not used beyond their best before expiry dates.

Fruit and vegetables are checked to ensure they are fresh, clean and unspoilt to prevent food poisoning.

Meat, fish and poultry are handled with the utmost care for food safety. They are:

  • checked for freshness,
  • cleaned and stored safely and
  • cooked correctly and knowing how to check that it is ready.

5. Know and follow physical safety practices.

To be a good chef, you must know and practice all the safety procedures as the kitchen is dangerous. This danger is increased during busy periods when there is high pressure, and the pace of work is fast, increasing the risk of burns, cuts and accidents from hot liquid spills and splashes, knife cuts or slipping on wet floors. A good chef:

  • Always wears their complete uniform to keep their person safe from spills and splashes.
  • Knows basic first aid to respond quickly and correctly to kitchen accidents where an injury occurs. A good chef knows to keep calm and composed and responds methodically to accidents and wounds.
  • Works with a conscious awareness of the dangers in the kitchen and the risk of injury.  A good chef takes practical precautions like wearing a dishcloth over a shoulder for touching kitchen utensils like pots and pans in case they are hot.

6. Practising personal hygiene.

Handling the food that someone will be eating is a big responsibility. A good chef knows it is vital to take care and pride in personal hygiene.

This means:

  • Wearing a clean, well-pressed uniform.
  • Make sure that they always smell clean and fresh and freshening throughout the day, mainly because of the long shifts worked and the extra energy spent, especially when working under pressure on busy days.
  • Washing hands after using the restrooms to prevent food contamination.

7. Leadership, Managerial and Business Skills.

Suppose, as a chef, you have your eye on becoming an executive chef or owning a restaurant or food-related business. In that case, you will need to develop both managerial and business skills to do things like source supplies and ensure that the kitchen functions profitably.

Hence, in addition to refining your culinary prowess as a chef, to be a good chef leader and businessperson, you also need the know-how to:

  • Assign duties and ensure execution, draw up work schedules, guide, mentor and develop staff.
  • Ensure that staff adhere to the health and safety standards for restaurants. Not doing so could lead to the shutdown of a food establishment.
  • Ensure that staff correctly and safely use, care of and maintain kitchen equipment and tools to prevent accidents and breakage.
  • Effectively manage and control the kitchen inventory.
  • Draw up budgets competently and make sure they are adhered to.
  • Source affordable and high-quality ingredients.
  • Cook cost-effectively, prevent wastage of ingredients and ensure the efficient use of kitchen resources like power.

25 Soft Skills a Chef Must Have.

Soft skills are essential for success in a culinary career, and yes, they can be taught. However, they may be more challenging to learn than hard skills because it means changing long-standing attitudes, habits, behaviours and styles of relating to self and others.

Embedded in culinary training are critical soft skills like being organised to help make good chefs out of culinary students. Naturally, it takes time and commitment to developing increasingly soft skills.

The below list includes the range of soft skills a chef should have:

1. A passion for cooking or baking.

While not a skill but a personal quality, a passion for culinary arts, be it cooking or baking, is an absolute must as this drives a chef to success.

This passion builds resilience to cope with challenging aspects of the career, like working an evening shift and returning early in the morning for a day shift.

2. Physical, mental and emotional stamina.

To be a good chef, you need the physical, mental and emotional stamina to work on your feet for long hours with few breaks, working under pressure and at a fast pace in a hot kitchen.

For some, this comes naturally, but others develop this resilience through experience.

3. Working in an organised way.

An essential skill of a good chef is working in an organised way by keeping your work surfaces clean and organising ingredients and tools to ensure service efficiency. Without it, a chef is less effective.

4. Making plans to work effectively.

Planning is a critical skill for chefs in leadership roles as they, for example, need to work out staff schedules, co-ordinate the different tasks in the kitchen in preparation for and during service, and plan the flow of traffic in the kitchen so that staff don’t collide, resulting in accidents and injuries, especially during busy periods.

5. Managing time to complete tasks.

A good chef has to manage their time by working efficiently and quickly to ensure that tasks are completed within the allotted periods allocated for service preparation and service. This ensures the smooth running of the kitchen and service efficiency.

6. Exercising creativity.

The opportunity to experiment and work with creativity to design new dishes and styles in food plating is what draws many chefs to a culinary career.

7. A willingness to learn and make mistakes.

A willingness to learn and make mistakes and learn from them is vital to being a good chef. Learn everything there is to know, even if it’s challenging and you do it feeling scared.

Rather than, for example, shy away from working in the hot kitchen section or working with chocolate for fear of making mistakes, as these are inevitable in a hands-on career, tackle it with the view of learning from mistakes made.

8. Be humble and teachable.

A humble and teachable attitude means you are willing to learn from anyone who has something worthwhile to teach, even if it’s the sculler washing dishes.

Not seeing yourself above anyone else because you’ve been to culinary school, for example, is what makes a good chef.

9. Be resilient to criticism.

Receiving feedback on what you are doing wrong is unavoidable in the hands-on culinary environment where a big part of learning is on the job.

Yes, it’s not pleasant when that criticism is delivered in harsh tones, and it’s best to develop a thick skin to especially such criticism, extract the feedback on what you did wrong, learn from it, and fix your mistake, then put it behind you and move on.

10. Pay attention to detail.

Paying attention to detail in things like correctly measuring ingredients in baking when not doing so could result in a flop or in cooking where too much of an ingredient that can’t be stored and re-heated again, like cream, could lead to waste, is key to being a chef.

11. Have high work standards.

A chef needs to have high standards for the quality of work produced by, for example, ensuring that any meal served to a customer has been cooked to perfection and plated with excellence, even though you cook the same dinner and plate in the same way daily.

12. Work with discipline.

Having a disciplined approach to working and adhering to daily routines, like cleaning and sanitising surfaces, sticking to health and safety standards, organising ingredients and tools, cooking from the same menu, plating in the same way and having the discipline to do this with high standards is essential to being a good chef.

13. Be dependable.

Being dependable and not only pitching for a scheduled shift but doing so on time, as others rely on you to do your part in getting ready for the next service or preparing for an event. Not doing so creates additional pressure on the rest of the team.

14. Problem solve and acting decisively.

Problem-solving and taking prompt, decisive action when problems arise, like someone forgetting to order carrot ribbons and you must improvise or substitute one ingredient for another, is a needed skill in a culinary career as various daily situations arise that require quick thinking and prompt action.

15. Communicate effectively.

Issuing clear instructions, especially by chefs in leadership roles, is as critical as listening carefully to instructions. Acknowledging the instruction with a ‘yes chef’ by junior chefs is equally essential for a kitchen to run well, especially in busy times.

16. Handle conflict effectively.

Handling conflict to work in harmony with team members is essential, and if differences can’t be resolved easily between individuals, the head chef can play a mediatory role.

17. Work well in a team.

A good chef needs to work well in a team, get along with team members and play their part, as teamwork is critical in a commercial kitchen.

Team members may have to, for example, collaborate to complete a dish where each person does one component towards finishing the meal or an order. A busy kitchen is made of multiple tasks, all happening simultaneously with various team members playing their part in the kitchen team, one person does a sauce, another the meat and it is all co-ordinated and plated as one meal.

Each staff member, from head chef to sculler, has to play their part in producing a high-quality service.

18. Be flexible and adaptable.

Being flexible in things like adapting to schedules that change all the time, working with different team combinations, adapting to changes in culinary trends, openness to new or different cooking to your norm, a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done, whether it’s washing dishes or floors or working even longer hours to meet the needs of customers is a critical quality for a chef to have.

19. Respect the kitchen line of command.

Respect for the line of command in a commercial kitchen, as the kitchen, can’t function effectively without it.

A junior chef must follow instructions as given by senior chefs. When the head chef issues a command, a ‘yes chef’ response acknowledges that the instruction will be carried out without argument.

20. Be customer oriented.

A good chef aims to provide excellent customer service, producing food that is excellently cooked and presented and served in a timely fashion to achieve the ultimate goal, customer satisfaction.

21. Follow the latest culinary trends.

Being an outstanding chef means keeping abreast of the latest culinary trends and coming up with food innovations in line with the latest trends.

22. Practise life-long learning.

An attitude toward lifelong learning makes a good chef.

This means continuously expanding your culinary skill-set to include learning a new food cuisine, learning from chefs you admire, keeping up with the latest culinary research, taking on a new culinary course and always asking questions to understand what you don’t know.

23. Be calm under pressure.

The days of the ranting and raving chef are becoming less common and acceptable.

A good chef considers their well-being and that of others and grows their resilience to buffer against the high-pressure environment in which a chef works with the many situations that arise in the kitchen.

Considering incidents like an order spoiling, critical ingredients not arriving, conflict or receiving harsh criticism, a disgruntled customer, the strain of standing and working many hours and the fast pace and time constraints under which chefs work, developing the art of remaining calm under pressure is a priceless skill to have.

24. Practise stress handling and prevention.

Dealing well with and preventing stress as a chef is essential.

This means taking care of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being daily, especially on off days by, for example, resting, pursuing self-fulling tasks, exercise or meditation, which is critical in the culinary environment with a history of harmful coping mechanisms like alcohol and drugs.

Taking care of yourself enables you to do your work with enthusiasm and commitment.

25. Develop soft skills for leading and managing people.

A chef in a leadership role needs to know how to effectively lead and manage people to optimise efficiency and ensure the kitchen or business’s profitability. Such a chef must have the people skills to, for example:

  • Motivate and inspire others by acknowledging and praising their efforts and hard work or working alongside staff, especially during busy times.
  • Promote a work atmosphere that is healthy and where staff get along with each other.
  • Listen to staff and take their concerns seriously.
  • Get the input of their staff when trying out a new dish for the menu and find out what exciting ideas they may have to contribute.
  • Hire competent staff who will work well with the rest of the team and discipline staff when necessary.
  • Know the team’s strengths and weaknesses, utilising staff where they will perform optimally and provide mentoring, coaching and training to address areas for growth.
  • Assessing the quality of staff work and providing guidance, coaching and mentoring to improve staff’s culinary and soft skills.

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