Restaurant owners know the crucial role that a chef plays in the success of their business. In the kitchen, you want a strong leader who is organized and can cook circles around any chef in town. When interviewing for a new chef, separate the good candidates from the bad by asking them to cook for you. The proof of a chef's talent will be in the pudding.
Ask a chef why she wants the job and what she knows about your establishment. A desirable candidate will describe the type of food your restaurant serves and your business' reputation in the community -- which shows that she's done her homework. She may say she wants to work with you because she enjoys your establishment personally, or that she wants to work in a place that serves the food she's expert in cooking. Steer clear of candidates who say they are merely relocating, want to "brush up on skills" or "just need a job."
Ask a candidate why she is leaving her current job. If she speaks badly of a current or former employer, it may be that she's a difficult employee to manage. A more desirable candidate will be respectful of her former employer and perhaps say that she is pursuing a new challenge.
Set up a working interview. Restaurants live and die by the quality of food they serve, and above all you want to make sure your chef can deliver good food. Ask the chef to prepare a few of the dishes your restaurant is known for. The chef may have designs on changing the menu, but she'll need to master your old stand-bys as well. If you're interested in an innovative menu, have the chef also prepare a few dishes she thinks will work well with the current selections. This working interview may be more telling than any questions you ask, because it will give you a clear idea of the candidate's knowledge of your restaurant's cooking styles and food sourcing.
Discuss the candidate's management style. Chefs are the lead person in a kitchen, responsible for doling out duties to sous chefs, cooks, dishwashers and other back-of-house staff. They must be very skilled at coping with the realities of late employees, underperformance, quality control and other issues. To assess the candidate's management style, describe a typical problem in your kitchen and ask her how she would handle it.
Arrange for members of your staff to meet with the candidate. The dynamics of a kitchen can be a big factor in the smooth flow of a kitchen, and you want to make sure your key players are on board with your choice -- or at least able to voice their opinions. Arrange for the sous chef and head waiter to speak with the candidate and give you feedback on her work style and manner with co-workers.
- As with any job interview, pay attention to the candidate's body language and dress. If the candidate makes eye contact, is attentive and leans forward slightly, it may indicate real interest in the position, according to the January 2011 issue of Psychology Today. The way she dresses is also important; a desirable candidate will demonstrate her professionalism and commitment by dressing the part. If you decide to do the working interview, the chef should arrive in clean, pressed chef whites. Alternately, she should wear a business suit and bring the chef clothing with her to change into during the working interview.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.