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What Is a Prep Cook?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A prep cook is one who works for a restaurant, caterer, or other food service establishment, doing preparatory work for the chef. A prep cook is an entry-level job, and it often falls to one who is an aspiring chef, or who is still attending a culinary school. It can be a great way to get experience in the kitchen, learning about preparatory work and how to prepare dishes, as well as how to use various pieces of equipment in the kitchen.

As a general rule, a prep cook does not generally do much actual cooking. Instead, the bulk of the prep cook's time at work is spent preparing foods to be cooked by the head chef or other senior chefs. This generally includes tasks such as chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes and other fruits and vegetables, washing food items to be used for cooking, and slicing foods as needed. This way, the chef can simply take the prepared foods and use them in a dish without needing to stop and slice or cut anything.

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A prep cook may also prepare dishes such as salads, breads, or items such as salad dressing or sauces. He or she may also be responsible for taking food items in and out of the freezer and refrigerator, and making sure the foods that need to be covered and put away are taken care of. This job generally does not require much kitchen clean-up or maintenance, which is usually the responsibility of a dishwasher or other maintenance employee.

A prep cook generally has a fairly low salary and may work unpredictable hours based on the needs of a restaurant. Many restaurants are open quite late, and all of the cooks must generally stay until closing time. This type of job and late hours often works well for those who are still in school, however, because one can attend class during the day and then go to work in the restaurant at night.

Someone who succeeds as a prep cook may be able to be promoted to a junior chef within a period of time, particularly if one is very familiar with the menu offered at the restaurant as well as the policies. It is important for prep cooks to be able to work quickly and efficiently, and to maintain excellent levels of personal hygiene. It is also important that one be able to work well with others in a fast-paced atmosphere, and to take direction and learn from constructive criticism.

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burcinc
Post 3

Thanks for the great info!

It is my dream to be an Executive Chef one day. Cooks just follow directions but chefs decide on the recipes and can change them as they desire or create something completely new if they want. It must be every cook's dream to be a chef.

I will probably also start out as a prep cook if I get into Culinary School. I am waiting for the School's decision right now. I've already started looking for jobs in the area and noticed a job announcement for "line cook" in the paper.

What is a line cook? What's the difference between a line cook and a prep cook?

burcidi
Post 2

@feruze-- Your example seems to be the exception. Most people who are looking for a career in the culinary arts generally take the job of prep cook. Many well known chefs have started out their careers that way, including my uncle.

Every job has that starters position where you're at the bottom of ladder and have to work your way up slowly. I think it's a great opportunity. Even if the prep cook is not totally satisfied with his or her job, he is still in the kitchen and will learn the tricks of the trade, so to speak.

I also think that restaurant owners and chefs value prep cooks very much. My uncle always says that without a head chef, a prep cook and a dishwasher, a restaurant just cannot run.

bear78
Post 1

I worked as a prep cook for about a year when I was in college even though I had no aspirations to be a chef. I just needed a job and my friend was also working there.

I don't think that prep cooks are given as much importance (or money) as they should be. Especially in certain types of cooking, a lot of the work is actually done by the prep cook, not the actual cooks.

The restaurant I worked at, for example, was Asian and the specialty was stir fry. Most of the work for stir-fry entails cleaning and cutting up vegetables and meats. The chef does the cooking, but stir-fry takes just a couple of minutes to make.

Also, all cooks knew how to use all the utensils, but I was the only one who knew how to use some of the machines and grinders.

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