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Chef de cuisine: What I do and how much I make

Zia talks about his role as chef de cuisine at Paowalla Restaurant in NYC, including key responsibilities and compensation.

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Video transcript

My name is Zia Sheikh. I am 35 years old. I am Chef de cuisine at Paowalla Restaurant, and I make 75,000 a year. My main responsibility as a chef de cuisine is to oversee any type of kitchen operation, from menu development to dishwashing to working alongside the cooks, to food, labor costs, sitting down with Chef Floyd for about 10 to 15 minutes a day. We talk about what's coming down the line as far as menu. We are a very highly seasonal restaurant. We try to use the Union Square Greenmarket as much as possible, as well as local farms. If it's not in season, it's not on our menu. Union Square Greenmarket is where all the local farmers in the area come together in one area. We will go over to them, talk to them about what's in season, taste everything, pick items up, and then bring it to the restaurant to prep out. Sometimes things will come in earlier than season, some things will come in later than season. For instance, english peas came three weeks out of season, whereas corn, again, popped out of nowhere, but right now, we're waiting for heirloom tomatoes to come into season. So it's a lot of talking to them, seeing what they're growing. And then they are there every two days, so we try our best to go there again every two days to keep things fresh. We bring it back to the restaurant, prep it in the morning, and then by nighttime it's on our menu and serving it to the guests. I do know how to cook everything on the menu, and I also have to know, just so if anybody comes to me with a question, it's my job to answer it and to show them how to do things. During dinner service, I am the conductor, I guess you could say. My main job is to work with all the stations making sure that they are set up and focused and ready to go, and then as tickets come in, I call out different food items to different stations, and then I'm basically just overseeing that they're doing their job correctly to time everything together. It's a constant learning job. When you come into it, you have to be ready to be humiliated. You're gonna be making a lot of mistakes. You're gonna be making a lot of mistakes daily. At the same time, you can't beat yourself up about it. Eventually down the line, you have to be a good cook, you have to be a good leader, you have to be a therapist, you have to be a parent, you have to be a friend. Just all those things come together as a restaurant kitchen manager. As chef de cuisine, and or sous-chef, or even chef owner, it's all about learning timing of different stations. We work off a traditional French system. We have one, what we call an Expediter, which is basically, you can think of it as a conductor of an orchestra. And then we have different stations doing different tasks. Expediter is in charge of timing all that together. You have to be able to time your cold station, your hot line, in this case our bread oven. Our guests are not waiting too long for food, and that everything goes out hot in a timely manner to a point where they'll appreciate it. Basic math comes into play. You have to look at cost of ingredients versus how much items cost per portion, and then breaking that down for the menu, factoring in the restaurant costs, and then serving it to the guests at a value that they'll appreciate. The most difficult piece for anybody starting out is learning the endurance of it. Most people, when they're starting out, they don't realize that you're gonna be on your feet for a very long time, just standing up and working in high-heat conditions, working with sharp knives. There's so many things that, what we call almost disaster areas in the kitchen. It's a very fast-paced world. It could be anything from cutting something wrong to overcooking a steak, undercooking a fish. There's so many different things that are just thrown at you and that you have to learn to let mistakes just roll off your back. It's not so much that you don't care, but you have to learn just to kind of keep moving forward. A lot of the sacrifices you have to make starting out in this field is knowing how much of your own time you're giving to this craft. To be a restaurant chef, you're giving up on a social life because you work weekends and holidays. You're giving up on family time, you're giving up on personal time because eventually, you'll be working 14 hours a day, and it becomes almost natural. My family still doesn't understand how I work so much, but it's part of the job, it's what I do. I have an opportunity to make people smile without ever meeting them, and to me, that's a great feeling. I am constantly feeding my own passion, as far as food goes. I'm right in the middle of everything, in terms of, again, just buying produce and prepping it and cooking it. The smells of everything in the kitchen just makes me happy on a daily basis. I did this just for the love of cooking, and it's what I want I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A lot of people actually nowadays do try to get into it for the money, and then they realize that it's a lot of hard work. It's a lot of repetition, it's a lot of long hours in the kitchen, it's learning the craft, and then eventually, you'll get to wherever you need to be. So I make 75,000 a year. Every restaurant is budgeted differently. So as far as what I make and my job title, it really just depends on what restaurant you go to, what restaurant group you go to. It could matter if you're in a private restaurant versus a hotel. So there's a lot of different factors that go into what a chef de cuisine could make. There are CDCs that make less than me, there are CDCs that make more than me, but as far as what this restaurant is budgeted for, that's what I make here.