Cooks - What They Do

Cooks prepare and cook a wide variety of foods. They are employed in restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other health care institutions, central food commissaries, educational institutions and other establishments. They are also employed aboard ships and at construction and logging campsites.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Prepare and cook complete meals or individual dishes and foods
  • Prepare and cook special meals for patients as instructed by dietitian or chef
  • Schedule and supervise kitchen helpers
  • Oversee kitchen operations
  • Maintain inventory and records of food, supplies and equipment
  • May set up and oversee buffets
  • May clean kitchen and work area
  • May plan menus, determine size of food portions, estimate food requirements and costs, and monitor and order supplies
  • May hire and train kitchen staff.
  • Cooks may specialize in preparing and cooking ethnic cuisine or special dishes.

Job titles

  • apprentice cook
  • journeyman/woman cook
  • licensed cook
  • cook
  • institutional cook
  • hospital cook
  • short order cook
  • dietary cook
  • grill cook
  • first cook
  • second cook
  • line cook
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a three-year apprenticeship program for cooks or Completion of college or other program in cooking or Several years of commercial cooking experience are required.
  • Trade certification is available, but voluntary, in all provinces and territories.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified cooks upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read warnings written on signs, labels and packaging, e.g. read labels on appliances to learn about burn and electrical shock hazards. (1)
  • Read text entries on forms, e.g. read comments on requisition forms to learn about the delivery of fresh produce. (1)
  • Read notices, bulletins and alerts, e.g. read allergy alerts and food recalls issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to learn about affected products and consumption hazards. (2)
  • Read food safety information, e.g. read shellfish food safety tips issued by Health Canada to learn about cross contamination hazards and how to safety store, thaw and cook seafood. (3)
  • Read a variety of instructions and procedures, e.g. read sequenced instructions for the operation of equipment, such as commercial pressure cookers and fryers. (3)
  • Read a variety of trade magazines, brochures and website articles, e.g. read articles in magazines, such as Food Service and Hospitality, to learn about technological advances in commercial kitchens. (3)
  • May read legal agreements, e.g. read contracts to learn about the terms and conditions stipulated in long-term food purchase agreements. (4)

Document use

  • Scan labels on product packaging and equipment to locate data, such as ingredients, potential allergens, cooking times and equipment settings. (1)
  • Interpret symbols and icons, e.g. interpret Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) hazard symbols found on cleaning products. (1)
  • Locate information on gauges and digital readouts, e.g. locate the temperatures of refrigerators and ovens on digital thermometers and sensors. (1)
  • Enter data into a variety of forms, e.g. enter data, such as dates, times and quantities, in stock reconciliation forms and chef report sheets. (2)
  • Locate data in a variety of tables, e.g. locate data, such as times, costs, and quantities, on recipe cards, invoices and food orders. (2)
  • Locate data in complex forms, e.g. locate data, such as billing information, guest numbers, times, locations, food and beverage requirements, charges, décor and furniture setup, in event confirmation sheets. (3)


  • Write brief reminders, e.g. write brief notes to remind co-workers about the particulars of upcoming catering events. (1)
  • Write brief comments on recipes, e.g. note changes to ingredient quantities and cooking temperatures on recipes. (1)
  • Write brief notes in forms, e.g. write notes on requisition forms to specify delivery times and handling instructions. (1)
  • May write memos and bulletins, e.g. may write memos and bulletins to co-workers to explain changes to meal preparation routines and food safety procedures. (2)
  • Write incident reports, e.g. complete incident reports for workers' compensation boards to describe events leading up to accidents and the actions they took afterwards. (2)
  • May write non-routine reports, e.g. write reports to management to request equipment upgrades or describe serious incidents, such as thefts or robberies. (3)


  • Use petty cash to purchase small quantities of supplies. (1)
  • Take measurements using basic tools, such as scales, containers and thermometers, e.g. use measuring cups to measure the volume of beef stock needed for soup recipes. (1)
  • Compare weights, temperatures and dimensions to specifications, e.g. compare the temperature of refrigerators to food safety specifications. (1)
  • Estimate the yield of bulk items, e.g. estimate the number of servings a three kilogram salmon will yield. (1)
  • May prepare customers' bills, e.g. may total customers' bills for catering functions and banquets and apply discounts and taxes. (2)
  • May calculate costs of menu items, e.g. calculate the cost of ingredients for promotional dinner specials. (2)
  • Calculate ingredient quantities when modifying recipes, e.g. calculate ingredient requirements to double and triple recipe yields. (2)
  • Convert the weights and volumes of ingredients between Imperial and Metric systems. (2)
  • Manage inventories of ingredients and supplies, e.g. use consumption data from previous functions to determine the amount of meat needed for future events. (2)
  • Estimate the time required to prepare food for catering functions and banquets. (2)
  • May schedule sequences of activities and tasks, e.g. establish meal preparation timelines and staffing requirements for large banquets. (3)
  • May develop budgets, e.g. head cooks may develop annual budgets by forecasting operating expenses and revenues. (3)
  • May analyze sales data to establish consumer trends and the popularity of menu items by day, month and season. (3)
  • Estimate the quantity of ingredients and supplies needed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. (3)

Oral communication

  • Speak with suppliers to learn about the availability of supplies and their cost. (1)
  • Discuss work assignments with co-workers, e.g. speak with kitchen staff to coordinate the use of equipment. (2)
  • May instruct kitchen and food servers, e.g. explain food safety protocols to apprentices. (2)
  • Make product suggestions and participate in product development meetings, e.g. offer suggestions and opinions about the type, flavour and appearance of menu items. (2)
  • May speak with customers, e.g. speak with customers to learn their opinions about recipes and the manner in which food was prepared and served. (2)
  • May negotiate contracts with suppliers, e.g. may negotiate with suppliers to establish the terms and conditions of food and equipment purchases. (3)


  • Contend with staff shortages. They call in replacement staff and ask workers to stay longer. (1)
  • Decide what supplies need to be ordered and when. (1)
  • Face shortages of ingredients and supplies. They substitute ingredients, replace menu items and contact suppliers to request rush deliveries. (2)
  • Encounter substandard and spoiled ingredients. They investigate the cause and speak with suppliers and staff to ensure ingredients meet quality standards. (2)
  • Discover that a recipe has not turned out as expected. They add other ingredients to improve the taste and start over if the food does not meet quality standards. (2)
  • Receive complaints from customers. They speak with customers about their concerns and establish where the fault lies. They speak with suppliers, kitchen staff and food servers to address quality and service issues. (2)
  • Decide how to modify recipes to meet customer needs. They alter ingredients and food preparation practices to accommodate customers with severe food allergies. (2)
  • Choose ingredients for menu items and specials. They consider the freshness and availability of ingredients and the food preferences of their customers. (2)
  • Decide the order of food preparation and housekeeping tasks. They consider factors, such as cooking times, customer preferences and the availability of staff and equipment. (2)
  • Evaluate the quality of ingredients using criteria, such as freshness, appearance, taste, size and texture. (2)
  • Evaluate the appearance and taste of the foods they produce, e.g. use their knowledge of food presentation and flavouring to determine whether a soufflé is suitably prepared. (2)
  • May evaluate the performance of kitchen staff, e.g. evaluate the performance of apprentices by considering their ability to maintain sanitary conditions and prepare food within acceptable timeframes. (2)
  • Plan tasks and review and modify work priorities and deadlines on an hourly, daily and weekly basis in order to ensure a smooth workflow and maximum efficiency. They coordinate their work plans with co-workers to schedule access to ovens and equipment and coordinate work between various work stations. Menus are generally planned on a longer basis, usually monthly. They also plan regularly to ensure an adequate stock and rotation of supplies. (2)
  • Source new recipes by conducting Internet research, reading trade magazines, referring to cookbooks and speaking with colleagues and suppliers. (2)
  • Locate prices and product codes by referring to paper-based and electronic catalogues and by speaking with suppliers. (2)
  • May evaluate the efficiency of kitchen operations, e.g. head cooks assess the organization of job tasks and the use of staff and equipment to optimize operations. (3)
  • Find information about trends and new cooking methods and products by reading recipes, magazine articles and cookbooks, consulting with other cooks and by visiting other restaurants. (3)

Digital technology

  • May use spreadsheet software to monitor inventory. (1)
  • Use calculators to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating ingredient requirements. (1)
  • May use specialized software applications to calculate the protein levels, calories and carbohydrates of menus items. (1)
  • Use digitally controlled kitchen equipment, such as pressure fryers and cookers, to prepare foods and menu items. (1)
  • May use enterprise digital assistant (EDA) devices to manage inventory and reorder supplies. (1)
  • May use word processing software to write memos, short reports and recipes. (2)
  • May use specialized databases to maintain inventories of ingredients and supplies. (2)
  • May use specialized databases to input and retrieve recipes. (2)
  • May use spreadsheet software to calculate ingredient requirements for non-standard orders. (2)
  • May use specialized restaurant management software to input costs and receivables and to generate sales summaries and income and expense statements. (2)
  • May use communication software to send email messages and attachments to suppliers. (2)
  • May use browsers and search engines to locate recipe ideas and information about equipment. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by apprenticeship trainers, suppliers, employers and associations. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access blogs and web forums where they seek and offer advice about recipes and health trends. (2)
  • May use advanced spreadsheet features to create budgets and track capital, staffing, leasing, inventory and operating costs. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Cooks work as a member of an integrated team that may include other cooks, chefs, kitchen staff and servers. They must co-ordinate their activities with co-workers to ensure optimum use of work space and equipment. At times, they may also work with a partner or helper.

Continuous Learning

Cooks participate in an ongoing process of acquiring skills and knowledge so they can keep up with the new trends in their industry. In order to grow within their trade, cooks need to know how to access a variety of materials, resources and learning opportunities. Their learning activities include reading books and magazines, accessing the Internet, watching cooking programs on TV, learning from friends and co-workers and trying out new recipes. They may attend customer service seminars or demonstrations hosted by food suppliers. Some cooks also belong to professional associations, attend trade shows and workshops and participate in cooking competitions.