Head chefs & leadership: A study of Copenhagen’s top gourmet restaurants

Astrid Cohr Lützen

Student thesis: Master thesis


With a general increase in interest for gourmet food and top restaurants in Copenhagen, an amplified focus has also been directed towards the creators responsible of the exclusive and popular product - the head chefs. Though they receive much acknowledgment for their creativeness in developing innovative and extraordinary new courses, the past approximately year and a half, the medias have also focused on what it takes for a top kitchen to be among the best. The general public has been surprised to find that leadership in these kitchens, have not developed in the same way as much leadership have in many other types of organizations, though little focused has been on the reasons for this. In the study a number of head chefs from restaurants, that was perceive to be among the best in Denmark, was interviewed and observed in action. This was done in order to gain a picture of what the situation was in terms of leadership, what influenced their way of leading and what their motivation was for the job – as chefs and as leaders. Essential to state is that a working day in these kitchens is split into two, both in terms of tasks and the leadership conducted. The findings revealed that a number of parameters were determining for the way the kitchens were led in ‘the service hours’ – the most distinctive being the importance of performing on time, which demonstrated the key difference in the leading, from other types of organizations. In the hours outside of ‘the service’, not much leading was observed and this seemed to be an area with the possibility to actively do something to ‘balance’ some of the side effects of the more authoritarian style, observed in ‘the service hours’. Different approaches to the role as leader was identified, but all of the head chefs interviewed had a very tight relation to their profession as chefs – not only due to the long working hours, but also because they were passionate and/or emotional about it, to a higher degree than the average Dane. Executive summary The creative process of developing new courses is primarily something reserved for the head chefs and not something the team is involved in. This chef’s artistic expression which is experienced in the courses, is not only of high importance to themselves and their motivation, but is also what makes them the centre of attention for the restaurant’s image in the public. Though the leadership performed, was most likely with more concern and reason than the general public appears to believe, there were still areas that could be worked on – the most apparent being some level of employee involvement in the creative processes, which would be beneficial both for a happier and maybe more motivated crew, as well as a head chef with more sources of inspiration.

EducationsMSc in Finance and Strategic Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages132