Career Profile: Institutional Cook

Career Profile: Institutional Cook

by Susan Huebert
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

Every day, you eat food that someone has cooked, whether you eat with your family at home or buy a meal from your school cafeteria. Cooking for a family of five or six people can be difficult and time-consuming, but cooking for large groups can be even more challenging. If you enjoy working with food and want to help feed people, the job of institutional cook could be right for you.

As the name suggests, institutional cooks work in places where many people come to eat. This could include hospitals, schools, seniors’ homes, or even prisons and jails. Depending on the types of people eating at the institution, the cook might need to know gourmet recipes, foods suitable for certain dietary needs, or other aspects of providing food for many different people at once. In some cases, institutional cooks might need to balance the needs of diabetics, people with high blood pressure, or many other factors. Being able to provide meals that are nutritious and filling without causing allergic reactions or other health problems can be a major challenge for people in this trade.

Besides health-related issues, the food that institutional cooks make should taste good and be varied. No one wants to eat the same meal day after day, and institutional cooks need to be creative in finding new recipes or variations on their standard meals. Many institutional cooks complete an apprenticeship or culinary program before they begin to work, and many gain experience as helpers in a kitchen before they take over as the main cook. In some places, people may be required to complete a course in the safe handling of food so that they know how to avoid giving people food poisoning.

In high school, courses in English and mathematics are helpful. Institutional cooks need to be able to follow recipes and understand what the different terms mean, and they might also need to research issues like how additives in food affect people with certain diseases or conditions. For example, finding low-salt options is important for anyone with high blood pressure. Being able to multiply or divide easily is also important for increasing or decreasing the size of recipes.

Many institutional cooks work with helpers who might not know much about cooking. Being able to supervise and to give clear instructions can help to make the job much easier and the process smoother. Getting many different dishes done at the same time is one of the very challenging aspects of institutional cooking, and it might take several years before people can time everything to be ready for the people who have come to eat. The hours can be long, and the kitchens can be very hot and busy.

Wages for people in this trade generally begin at about $14 per hour or $29,000 per year and can rise to $23 per hour or $50,000 per year. The work involves standing or moving around in the kitchen for long hours, and people might want to move into a more supervisory role as they age. One option is to move from doing the cooking itself to planning meals and ordering supplies, which can be much less stressful.

Working as an institutional cook can be a high-pressure job, but it can also be interesting for people who enjoy working with food. It could be the right job for you.



Job Bank. “Cook in Canada.” https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/occupation/6225/ca.

Job Bank. “Cook in Ontario.” https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/outlook-occupation/6225/ON.

Skills Competences Canada. “Cooking.” https://www.skillscompetencescanada.com/en/skill_area/cooking/.

Payscale. “Average General/Institution Cook Hourly Pay in Canada.” https://www.payscale.com/research/CA/Job=General%2FInstitution_Cook/Hourly_Rate.

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