Jim McGrody, director, culinary and nutrition services at Rex Health Care, Raleigh, NC, developed a list of questions to ask when interviewing for executive chef and sous chef positions. He’s shared it with managers, directors and dietitians all across the country. The questions are meant to delve deeper into a potential hire’s culinary style, managerial style, background and knowledge.

“Anybody can call themselves a chef,” McGrody says. “If you don’t know the right questions to ask, you might fall for anything.”

Here are a few of McGrody’s tried-and-true interview questions:

  • I see you went to XXX Culinary school, what was your favorite class at School? What was your least favorite?

-Try to feel the candidate out, focus on what his/her least favorite class was and try and drill down why?

  • What was the most exotic food you ever ate?

- Look for candidate’s depth of food knowledge, if their answer is calamari, they may not have been exposed to a wide variety of foods

  • When you go out to eat, what do you look for in a restaurant? What is your favorite food to eat?

Look closely at what they eat when they are off, Are they eating at trendy restaurants trying new and exciting foods or are they eating at Applebee’s?

  •  What is your favorite meal to cook? Why?

Look for his/her use of ingredients, are they authentic, does it make sense. Do they know what they are talking about?

  • Give me an example of a seasonal menu. Describe a late summer menu.

 Look for use of in-season ingredient. Tomatoes, corn, squash, etc

  • Lets talk soup! Walk me through how to make New England clam chowder.

Do they articulate this recipe with confidence? Have they ever made it? Do they understand the classical preparation?

  • What made you decide to enter the culinary world and why did you want to become a chef?

Look for the true passion for food and this industry

  • . What do you do to stay on top of the new cooking trends?

Do they read cookbooks, magazines, etc. Are they in tune with the Food Network and the Cooking Channel?

  • When developing a menu how do you enforce the standards that you have set in place?

Do they have training for their staff, using tools such as placards, pictures, portion sizes etc.

  • Have you ever been a mentor to someone? Who were they and what did you do to help them grow professionally?

Look for leadership and nurturing. What attributes made them take this person under their wing.

  • Tell me about your relationship with your vendors.

What do they look for in a vendor, do they hold them accountable, are they using them for best prices and developing new trendy menu items

  • Tell me about your favorite meal you cooked, who was it for and what was the menu?

Look for passion as they retell the story, what types of ingredients were used, try and get details of service and guest interaction

  • If you were asked to reduce fat and sodium in a menu, what would you do to maintain the flavor an quality of the dish.

 Would they use stock as part of the ratio for oil vs. acid in a vinaigrette, would they use fresh herbs, citrus juices, roasted garlic etc how would they get the flavor back into the food?

  •  Explain the process for braising? What are the attributes of a braised item and explain the process step by step.

You will know immediately if they do not know the answer. The answer is tougher cuts of meat that have been browned usually simmered with aromatics in a rich stock or broth. The braising techniques breaks down connective tissue making tougher cuts of meat tender

  • Describe a difficult situation you had with one of our cooks and how you handled it.

Look for how they solved the problem, was good leadership skills used, how big was the problem. If the example is attendance related, perhaps they have not been exposed to many difficult situations

  • Tell me something about you that you feel you need to improve on. What are your long term goals as a chef?

How relevant is the answer. How lofty are their goals?

  •  If you were told that your food cost was high, what 5 things would you look at first?

Try and get food cost control out of them Do they look at portions sizes, production amounts, how food is purchased, waste, theft, costing recipes etc.

  • How involved have you been in with controlling labor If your labor is running high, what measures do you take to control it?

What measures did they put in place, do they understand the FTE and what it means. How do they approach OT and non productive time?

  •  How involved have you been with menu development? What are some factors that are considered when developing a menu?

Do they consider market preference, equipment issues, staff’s ability, price point etc

  • How much experience do you have with a structured disciplinary process?

The candidate should have extensive experience in this area,. They must understand the need for constructive coaching and that this can be used positively rather than negatively.

  • As a chef what part of the healthcare industry excites you? Where do you see yourself making the most impact to patient care?

Look for true patient care and driving excellence in hospital rather than more PTO and time off. Quality of life is important in making a job decision but should not be the only reason.