First Cook

Oversee meals and ensure kitchen is clean and safe at large institutions.
picture of First Cook

Quick Stats


Salary Range
$20,000 – $48,000

Data from U.S. Department of Labor

What do First Cooks do?

Back in elementary school, lunch could make or break a day. When the big steaming vats held tater tots, everything was right with the world. But when it was mystery meat…well, everything just looked bleak and hopeless. And you can thank whoever was the First Cook at your school for these mood swings.

The First Cook works in a large kitchen, like those found in schools or prisons. You lead other Kitchen Workers in creating meals, maintaining cleanliness and safety, and other tasks.

In this job, you’re Cook first and foremost. You plan meals, and lead the Chefs beneath you through the creation of these meals. You also develop a schedule to get food on the tables at specific times. When it’s not time to cook, you do things like inventory supplies and food, order new replacements, and plan out the week’s meals. There’s also a creative side to your job, as you need to find ways to use leftovers in future meals, or work with the Pastry Chef to make a new dessert.

Since your job is all about food handling, one of your major responsibilities is cleanliness. As a First Cook, you need a sanitation certificate. And you keep an eye on your workers to make sure they’re following rules on cleanliness, like using hairnets or the correct floor cleaner.

You have a lot of personnel management duties as well. For example, you hire, fire, and train other Kitchen Workers, plan their work schedules, and handle any time-off requests.

Should I be a First Cook?

You should have a high school degree or higher and share these traits:
  • Calm Under Pressure: You keep your cool when dealing with highly stressful situations.
  • Reliable: You can always be counted on to do a good job.
  • Levelheaded: You hold your emotions in check, even in tough situations.

  • How to become a First Cook

    Most First Cooks have no higher education and get on-the-job training. Think about earning a Certificate or Associate's degree to increase your competitiveness in the field. Chart?chd=s:9ccdae&chl=no+college+%2883%25%29|certificate+%283%25%29|associate%27s+%283%25%29|bachelor%27s+%285%25%29||doctorate+%286%25%29&cht=p3&chs=466x180&chxr=0,83,83
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