What does a Cooks do?

Median Pay $23,970
Growth Rate 6%
Citation Retrieved from BLS.gov

Though you may know that a cook prepares dishes at restaurants, they also have additional responsibilities and knowledge in food sanitation and safety. Cooks must also learn a variety of items to cook as they generally assist to cook every item on their restaurants menu. When they change employers, they would need to learn an entirely new menu of items or cuisine.

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How to Become a Cook

what does a cook do

There is no formal education required to become a cook. However, some employers may prefer a blend of formal education and experience depending the cooking skills required at the restaurant. Culinary programs are offered through community colleges, trade schools, and culinary schools that specialize only on this career path.

Cooks can also gain experience at restaurants doing prep work and then work their way up to becoming a cook. Even students in high school can gain experience working in the kitchen of a restaurant doing prep work. This type of work entry-level work can teach you best practices in sanitization and food storage and can also get you more skilled with using kitchen equipment such as knives, food processors, blenders, and more.

Job Description of a Cook

Cooks would arrive before a restaurant opens and prepare their cooking areas. They inspect their station, clean the area if applicable, and ensure the ingredients they need are easily accessible. Having a properly set-up area is important as a kitchen can be a high-paced environment to work in. Cooks must be able to follow directions from a chef and follow recipes. This ensures the quality of the meals are consistent for customers. They must also be detail-oriented. They could have many items cooking at the same time and they must keep a watchful eye on them all.

Cook Job Posting

Let’s look at a job description posted by the Department of the Navy. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following responsibilities:

  • Performs a full range of simple cooking tasks by preparing and cooking items requiring little or no processing such as pancakes, sausage, eggs, hamburgers, and fresh or canned vegetables.
  • Prepares all forms of hot cereals; broils meats; prepares and cooks concentrated or dehydrated soups, sauces, and gravies; and makes cold sandwich fillings.
  • Prepares convenience items such as frozen hash browns, fish fillets, and chicken nuggets. May prepare and bake pizza.
  • Prepares foods by peeling, chopping, grinding, paring, cutting, slicing, dicing, pureeing, dredging, flouring, and breading.
  • Weighs, measures, and dispenses foods in accordance with portion controls.
  • Mixes ingredients according to precisely written recipes. Sets up and replenishes salad bar.
  • Covers, dates, and stores leftovers according to established procedures.
  • Cleans and maintains equipment and work areas.
  • Maintains accurate food inventories and rotates stock items to prevent spoilage.
  • Performs other related duties as required.

This position was posted to run 12/13/2018 until 03/10/2019 with a salary range of $13.81 to $16.12 per day on USAjobs.gov (link opens in a new tab). USAjobs.gov is an official website of the United States government and part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

Harvard University offers a free Science and Cooking course on EdX.org (link opens in a new tab) with the option to pay a small fee receive a verified certificate upon completion of the course.

By taking this course, you’ll learn:

  • The chemical and physical principles that underlie everyday cooking and haute cuisine techniques.
  • How chefs can use enzymes to make foods that would otherwise be impossible.
  • How to use the scientific method to learn how a recipe works, and find ways you could improve it.
  • How to think like a chef AND a scientist.

Related Careers to Research:

Cooks Career Video Transcript

The human need for nourishment and the pleasure of a good meal cannot be overstated. The cooks who prepare those meals from elegant restaurant dining to fast food production, have fast-paced careers with more facets than you might expect. Under the direction of chefs or food service managers, cooks follow recipes to prepare restaurant-sized portions. They measure and mix ingredients to create their assigned menu items, and may garnish them to be served. Items may range from breakfast omelets to salads, steaks, and desserts. They keep their work areas and equipment clean, following safe food handling procedures.

Cooks use a variety of equipment, including blenders, stoves, grills, many different pans, and sharp knives. Some kitchens employ many cooks, each assigned a particular area such as fry cook, vegetable cook, or others. Some cooks order supplies and plan the daily menu. In a fast-food setting, cooks prepare a limited menu to be kept warm until sold. Cafeteria cooks usually prepare a large quantity of a limited number of items, with a menu that changes regularly. Short-order cooks emphasize fast service and quick preparation, with items such as eggs, sandwiches, and french fries on the menu.

Private household cooks, also known as personal chefs, prepare meals according to a client’s preferences. They order groceries and supplies, clean the kitchen, and may cater social events. Most cooks work full-time in shifts that may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Cooks in schools and institutional cafeterias usually work more regular hours. Cooks stand much of the time, and at rush times, experience high intensity in close quarters to produce meals quickly. Falls, burns, and cuts are hazards in this field. Most cooks learn their skills on-the-job. Although no formal education is required, some cooks attend culinary training programs of between 2 months and 2 years, while others learn through a 1 year apprenticeship.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Cooks.

National Center for O*NET Development. 35-2014.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.