How Do I Become a Chef?
Research what it takes to become a professional chef. Learn about formal and informal training opportunities, job responsibilities and optional certifications to find out if this is the career for you.
Career Information at a Glance
Whether working in popular, upscale restaurants or in more casual cafeterias, chefs are called upon to cook delicious food and to oversee operations in the kitchens in which they work. The following chart gives an overview of the career.
|Training Required||On-the-job training and/or culinary coursework|
|Education Field of Study||Culinary arts|
|Key Skills||Preparing meals, following recipes, using cooking equipment, keeping your kitchen sanitary|
|Job Growth (2012-22)||5% (slower than average) for chefs and head cooks*|
|Median Salary (May 2014)||$41,610 for chefs and head cooks*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Is the Role of a Professional Chef?
Jobs in this field range from food preparation chefs to executive chefs, and they require varying levels of responsibility. To become successful and advance through the ranks, you must acquire excellent cooking and menu planning skills, foster an understanding of how ingredients work together and build a flair for creating visually appealing foods. In addition, you must be capable of managing and supervising kitchen staff and ensuring that customers are served quality food in a timely manner.
What Skills Will I Need?
To become a chef, you'll need extensive knowledge of the culinary arts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs must know how to check food quality and prepare meals using detailed recipes (www.bls.gov). You must know how to use various kinds of cooking equipment, determine food portions and run a clean and sanitary kitchen. According to the College Board, chefs must sometimes perform such tasks as hiring and terminating staff, maintaining financial records and offering customer service (www.collegeboard.com).
What Educational Training Should I Acquire?
You can pursue one of several paths toward becoming a chef. Many chefs learn their skills on the job. They work their way up through a restaurant's ranks and are gradually promoted from lower-ranking kitchen positions. Others receive formal training at private culinary schools, from community colleges or in university culinary arts programs.
While formal training isn't a strict requirement, it may open doors for employment. The BLS reported that many chefs participate in certificate or culinary degree programs, which can take 2-4 years to complete. A 2-year culinary arts program at a community college, for instance, might consist of courses on cooking principles, cost analysis, restaurant operations, advanced baking, inventory control and pastry arts. You may also locate an apprenticeship training program through a school of culinary arts.
Certification isn't required to become a chef, but it could lead to higher-paying jobs and career advancement. The American Culinary Federation offers certifications for chefs, including the Certified Culinarian (CC), the Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and the Certified Master Chef (CMC). You may qualify for certification if you have the requisite work experience and formal educational training (www.acfchefs.org).