Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Chef

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Is your character a chef? If so, this is how to write this occupation accurately.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: CHEF

Overview: There are many different types of chefs, but in general a chef is responsible for food preparation; they may plan the menu, oversee and direct others in its preparation, select ingredients, order supplies, and manage the kitchen staff.

Chef-Owners are responsible for the restaurant’s success, and so oversee the kitchen (and restaurant) from a business standpoint. They may hire, fire, set prices, and have the final say over the menu. An Executive Chef oversees the daily operation of the kitchen which includes food preparations, ordering, and menu planning. A Sous Chef oversees the kitchen in the Executive’s Chef’s absence, is responsible for training new chefs, and ensures the food leaving the kitchen is of the highest quality and presentation. A Senior Chef is part of the team and is typically assigned to a station within the kitchen where they are responsible for a specific dish or aspect of food preparation (such as plating). Chefs are different than cooks (cooks do not have as much training and generally fill the entry-level positions in a restaurant or work as part of a small staff in smaller establishments).

Necessary Training: Most chefs require an associate’s degree in culinary arts and certifications in specific areas. Their courses will include things like nutrition, butchery, grilling, pastry creation, kitchen safety & basic first aid, garnishing and plating,  hospitality training, menu planning, and possibly business courses that look at kitchen operations and management. Training is both classroom based and hands on. Candidates will often take entry level positions and apply for apprenticeships (2-3 years) to gain the work experience needed to apply for chef positions.

Chefs often also have specialized training in a certain area (Pastry Chefs, Grill Chefs, Pantry Chef, Sauce Chef, etc.)

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, a knack for making money, baking, basic first aid, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, exceptional memory, hospitality, multitasking, photographic memory, promotion, sculpting, super strength, swift-footedness, throwing one’s voice

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, ambitious, analytical, centered, cooperative, creative, disciplined, focused, hospitable, imaginative, independent, industrious, inspirational, meticulous, observant, organized, passionate, professional, sophisticated, talented, thrifty

NEGATIVE: cocky, compulsive, extravagant, judgmental, know-it-all, obsessive, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: long work hours, demanding employers and customers, customers who insist on certain substitutions or exclusions that basically will ruin a dish, kitchen hazards (burns, cuts, back issues from being one one’s feet too long, dehydration from hot cooking conditions, scaldings, etc.), having to work weekends and holidays (missing out on family events), working for owners who have little knowledge of how a kitchen should be run and meddling with one’s system or making unreasonable demands with the menu, poorly designed kitchens with too little storage and counter space, poorly maintained equipment, hiring lazy staff, team members who are out of sync (messing up the food delivery timing), customer complaints, last-minute diners who arrive right before closing, kitchens that are not stocked and prepped properly for the next day, servers who screw up an order and then the kitchen staff is blamed, performance-related stress, competition among chefs

People They Might Interact With: customers, kitchen staff, wait staff, management, owners, other chefs, cooks, delivery people, health inspectors, grocers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: The long, difficult hours, being in an environment where one’s skills are not appreciated and customers are demanding or rude may lead a character to wonder if they chose the right dream to follow
  • Esteem and Recognition: A chef who is on the lower end of the kitchen hierarchy may struggle if he or she feels that their contributions are not being recognized or if they are being mistreated by haughty senior chefs
  • Love and Belonging: The long hours, weekend and holiday shifts, and exhaustion while home can make relationships difficult to keep. Family may come to resent the character’s profession as it will often come before them.
  • Safety and Security: A kitchen contains many hazards that could lead to an injury that would be life-changing (losing a finger while chopping, being scalded and disfigured, sampling too much and gaining an unhealthy level of weight, etc.)

Common Work-Related Settings: airport, big city street, birthday party, black-tie event, casual dining restaurant, cruise ship, kitchen, medieval castle (speculative), penthouse suite, ski resort, upscale hotel lobby, wedding reception, wine cellar, yacht

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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4 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Chef

  1. :Donna says:

    OK, now I’m hungry! HOW am I supposed to diet with stuff like this? 😉

  2. I have been enjoying these occupation thesaurus posts series, Angela.
    I do have a question.
    In regards to the useful skills, talents, or abilities section:
    Are skills like enhanced taste buds and sense of smell something people are born with or something which they develop by constant practice in their profession?
    That could be a plot element in character building.
    Keep them coming, please.

    • I think it’s likely both, but the people who are truly gifted at it often have good genetics that allow them to have a strongly developed palate. It’s like a muscle though, so to do something with it, you would have to experience and study and expose oneself to different flavors.

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