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“You can have the degree and even buy accolades, but a chef must exude passion,” Conklin says about his first requirement. “I even want cooks like that. I want a cook who shows me pictures on his phone of what he made his mother-in-law last week.”

Ask to see pictures, he says. Everyone passionate about food will have pictures on their phone. But it’s not just about cooking. Far from it.

“Cooking is the easy part, but the other 75 percent of the job is managing,” says Conklin, adding that you have to ask the right questions: “‘Tell me how you are a good manager. How did you improve a bad situation in your last job?’”

And remember, managing is a little different in a hospital than in a restaurant kitchen. There’s far less yelling.

“HR is different here,” McGrody explains. “We’re bringing restaurant quality to the hospital, but we have policies and procedures. Will [restaurant chefs] understand how our world works? I’ve had pans thrown at me in restaurant kitchens. That will get you fired here.”

Gee said a good rule when hiring an executive chef is they must have at least five years experience as a sous chef.

How to find qualified candidates?

Strategic partnerships, says Gee. Use the chefs from your local association chapter as guides.

“We all know people,” he says. And beyond that, vendors can be a great source. “They go into every kitchen and know who’s good, who’s not and who’s unhappy in their jobs.”

Conklin says a help-wanted ad can work, but it must be done right. If you’re going to put an ad online or in the local newspaper, it better not say “Hiring Hospital Chef.”

If you do, you’ll end up with a hospital chef.

“The ad should say something like ‘Reinventing Hospital Food: Up For the Challenge?’ You want to attract restaurant and hotel chefs,” he says.

McGrody says another key is paying them at that level. Human resource departments must understand and be willing to slot their salaries at comparable levels to local restaurants and hotels, not other hospitals.