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Executive Chef vs. Head Chef: Differences and Similarities

two chefs talking

It’s common for smaller restaurants to have just one Head Chef on their payroll to manage all kitchen operations. However, in larger or high-end restaurants, it’s not uncommon to find both an Executive Chef and one or more Head Chefs being employed.

In these cases, the two roles aren’t the same. They encompass different responsibilities and sit in different positions in the kitchen hierarchy.

So, Executive Chef vs. Head Chef: what’s the real difference? In this article we look at each role closer to clarify what separates them.

Differences Between an Executive Chef and a Head Chef

Although often used interchangeably, the terms “Executive Chef” and “Head Chef” aren’t the same. The Executive Chef role is focused more on the managerial aspect of running a restaurant kitchen while the Head Chef role involves more hands-on work.

The reason why there’s often a mix-up between these two roles is that smaller restaurants only hire an Executive Chef or a Head Chef. Usually, they only have a Head Chef who fills the duties of both the Head Chef and the Executive Chef.

However, when both an Executive Chef and a Head Chef (or multiple Head Chefs) are employed, there’s a clear distinction between them since their work covers different responsibilities.

In such scenarios, it’s also common for an Executive Chef to teach Head Chefs how to prepare new dishes on the menu. The Head Chefs are then responsible for passing that knowledge onto the rest of the staff.

To make the Executive Chef vs. Head Chef distinction clearer, you can consult the table below:

AspectExecutive ChefHead Chef
Place in the kitchen hierarchyAt the very top of the kitchen hierarchySecond highest-ranking role (just below Executive Chef)
Key responsibilitiesStrategic planning, developing the menu, handling finances and staffingDaily kitchen management, delivering quality dishes consistently and training new staff members
Decision makingLong-term decisions that impact the entire restaurantDecisions related to day-to-day kitchen operations
Interaction with other kitchen workersLess interaction, more focused on management and coordinationDirect supervision of other kitchen workers
Handling financesOversees budget planning for the kitchen (or multiple kitchens in larger and high-end restaurants)Manages kitchen-specific costs (costs of ingredients, for example)

Now that you know the main differences between the two roles, let’s define them in even more detail.

What is an Executive Chef?

An Executive Chef, also called Chef de Cuisine, manages all kitchen operations. In large restaurants, they oversee multiple kitchens and manage several Head Chefs.

Their work includes coming up with new recipes, creating menus and managing all kitchen staff. What separates them from a Head Chef role is that they focus more on the administrative side of running a kitchen.

To do this, an Executive Chef needs to have strong leadership and organization skills. The role also requires years of experience working in a commercial kitchen environment.

What is a Head Chef?

The Head Chef sits just below the Executive Chef in the kitchen hierarchy. It’s the highest-ranking Chef role that is hands-on with the kitchen operations.

Their work includes managing inventory, making orders and managing or training the rest of the team.

They delegate day-to-day kitchen operation tasks as needed to their Sous Chef. However, they’re always ready to step in and do any type of work when the kitchen needs them to.

Pros and Cons of Being an Executive Chef

If you think you’ll enjoy managing a restaurant and making important decisions, you might be cut out to be an Executive Chef.

As an Executive Chef, you’ll craft restaurant policies, conduct performance reviews and enforce establishment standards.

However, keep in mind that to land an Executive Chef job, you’ll probably need at least a few years of experience in the Head Chef role.

To better understand whether this is the right role for you, we created a list of pros and cons of being an Executive Chef.

ProsCons
The highest-level Chef role you can getHigh level of responsibility and stress
Higher salaryLong and irregular work hours
A lot of freedom for creativityA lot of administrative duties
More recognition in the culinary worldPressure to maintain high standards

Pros and Cons of Being a Head Chef

If you like cooking and working in the kitchen better than doing administrative tasks, you may prefer to work as a Head Chef.

Like the Executive Chef role, being a Head Chef involves personnel management, but in a different way. You’ll see yourself working more closely with the people you manage.

To become a Head Chef, you may first have to spend a few years in lower Chef positions or in the role of a Cook.

The pros and cons list of being a Head Chef below can help you decide whether this is the role you want to pursue.

ProsCons
Hands-on involvement in the kitchenHigh pressure to deliver quality dishes
A lot of creativity in terms of cooking and platingPhysically demanding job
Interacting and socializing with kitchen staffLimited control over important restaurant decisions
Opportunities to improve your cooking skillsStress from working in a kitchen environment
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