How Hard Is It to Hire and Keep Good Cooks?
Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail email@example.com.
One of the most common titles -- and most crucial positions -- in a restaurant is that of a line cook, someone who is in charge of a particular station in the kitchen.
How hard is it to hire and retain good cooks in today's Phoenix food scene? Here's what a few Valley chefs had to say:
Bernie Kantak Chef and Partner, Citizen Public House
These days, it's rare to run across an individual who has the chops to withstand the daily grind of working in a kitchen. The other day, I was with two other chefs, and one of them received a text from an employee giving notice -- or should I say giving notice that no notice is being given. Two days later, the other guy had two people cancel their stage 12 hours before for personal reasons. It's a tough industry and not for everyone.
Chef Stephen "Chops" Smith, Searsucker, Scottsdale
It's extremely hard. Labor being what it is, you only have a certain amount of dollars for your top slots -- and often someone else is looking for top-tier guys and is going to pay to take them away. Other times, you find individuals who are worthy of your dime, but you've got no room on the payroll.
Silvana Salcido Esparza Chef and owner, Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen
My cooks have been with me for three to eight years. I have staff that dates back to the mid-1990s, from my ASU days. Treat people as family. Family stays together.
Aaron May Chef and Restaurateur
Retaining them is much easier than finding them. Too many cooks have a sense of entitlement today and finding hardworking cooks who want to be in this industry just isn't as easy as it was five years ago.
Farah Khalid Chef and Owner, Curry Corner
Considering Pakistani/Indian food is a rare commodity, especially in a state like Arizona, it's especially difficult to hire and retain someone who can master your personal recipes. It's very rare to get the exact same taste -- there are bound to be individualistic variations. Despite that, if you keep a good working environment, it's not too hard to retain well-trained cooks.
Michael O'Dowd Chef and Owner, Renegade Tap and Kitchen
It's easy to hire rookie cooks and retain them if your restaurant is lukewarm in terms of skill sets. The fun part and the goal is to hire the "baller" cooks and retain them by teaching and inspiring them daily.
Chef Chris Mayo, North
Finding and keeping good cooks is the single most difficult part of my job. Since it is rarely the "chef" who is cooking your meal, the quality of the cooks is the most important element in the success or failure of the food.
Kelly Sample Owner, Cucina Tagliani
With the wave of TV cooking shows, it's becoming easier to get people interested in cooking as a career, but most of them think they can land a job in a casino or resort making big bucks. That's rarely the case. You have work your way up the ladder, and that takes time. Time is the factor the young guns don't want to invest. Everybody wants everything right now.
Christopher Gross Chef and Owner, Christopher's Restaurant & Crush Lounge
Sometimes it's hard. Some think after six months or so they have mastered everything when they haven't, and then they move on. I always look at how long someone has been at one place, and if I know the chef, I give a call before hiring.
Chef Dean Delgado Ncounter and T.C. Eggington's
It can be very challenging. The hardest part is finding good-quality applicants. I try to maintain a fun yet hardworking atmosphere in the kitchen, and that helps for retention purposes. A good trick is to find a new employee that has some experience but not much; that way we can teach him/her all the correct methods and the behavioral traits that will best benefit the business.
Chef Chris McKinley, Atlas Bistro
It's very hard to get solid help in the kitchen. The culinary schools need to give more realistic expectations to the students that are joining the job market. Too many cooks want to skip all the steps necessary to hone their craft and go and get all the glory.
Romeo Taus Chef and Owner, Romeo's Cafe
Difficult! Most chefs consider the greatest asset of a cook their ability to follow instructions, not their creativity. Understanding what one's duties and responsibilities are and their role in the kitchen is crucial. The pay comes after they acquire the skills and the knowledge that would make them valuable to the chef.
Eddie Castillo Chef and Owner, AZ Food Crafters
I have found that good cooks are usually on their way somewhere else: In transition to be chefs! Finding and developing good cooks is easy. Retention is almost impossible lest you stump their growth potential.
Anthony Spinato Chef and Owner, Spinato's Pizzeria
There are not a lot of individuals who look at being a cook as a career, so usually you only get them while they are going through college or for a short time. It may be the toughest position in the restaurant. No matter how much you can pay them, they are underpaid. They do not make tips like servers, work much harder, deal with more pressure, and at the end of the night, have to clean the restaurant.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.