How to Become a Catering Chef in 5 Steps

A catering chef provides services, food and beverages for various types of social functions. Many catering chefs obtain formal education through a culinary institute or technical school before seeking employment, and some earn professional certification to demonstrate their expertise. Continue reading for a step-by-step guide to entering this profession. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Catering Chef?

A catering chef is a specific type of chef that provides the food and drinks for special events like birthdays, weddings, or business meetings. Catering chefs usually work closely with clients to decide on the type of cuisine, the quantity, and the presentation. Chefs may work for a catering company, or they could own their own business. For those who run their own catering business, business skills in marketing and other relevant areas are very helpful. The table below includes more pertinent information on this career:

Degree Required High school diploma
Education Field of Study Culinary arts
Key Responsibilities Cooking and preparing food, transporting food, working with clients, creating menus
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for chefs and head cooks)*
Median Salary (2015) $41,500 (for chefs and head cooks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Research Catering Chefs' Duties and Education

A catering chef designs the perfect menus for a function or event, such as a wedding, company party, conference, intimate dinner or other type of social gathering. Some caterers specialize in a specific type of food, while others specialize in a specific type of event. Many catering chefs cross over the entire spectrum of styles in an effort to work in a variety of situations.

Catering chefs need to be able to produce large amounts of scrumptious food. They should also have good communication skills to collaborate on menus with their clients. Catering chefs usually have a high school diploma, along with some years of experience and formal training.

Step 2: Follow Relevant Pursuits in High School

While in high school, take relevant classes, such as cooking, food safety and food handling along with computers, math and English. You could also pursue a part-time job in a kitchen or with a caterer (if possible) during this time to get much needed hands-on experience and feedback concerning the profession to ensure it's for you.

Step 3: Enroll in a Culinary Program

Most employers require catering chefs to have a culinary degree. Enroll in a culinary program at a technical college, community college, 4-year institute or culinary institute to learn basic chef skills. Try to find a program in culinary arts, food services or consumer sciences with a catering option in order to get basic training in catering. If your ultimate goal is to open your own business, take business, marketing and management courses.

Step 4: Find a Job

Consider what type of catering chef you would like to be. Do you want to work for yourself? If so, find out your state's rules and regulations before setting up shop. Beginning caterers must have a good amount of capital in order to start a business. See what other caterers there are in your area and determine if your catering specialties are missing or needed in the marketplace.

Would you like to be an employee? Interview managers of local catering companies and restaurants to determine which company is the best fit before applying for a position. Another good question you might ask yourself in an effort to narrow the field is where you want to work - on-site in a restaurant, or in off-site catering for events.

Step 5: Continue Your Education

A catering chef should always keep up-to-date in the catering field. You could subscribe to food and catering publications as well as become a member of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which promotes continuing education with its Professional Development Series. The series outlines the latest trends and requirements in the culinary industry.

Also, you could earn certification through the ACF. The organization offers a range of certification options, including the Certified Culinarian, Certified Chef de Cuisine, Certified Executive Chef and Personal Certified Chef. All of these have different eligibility requirements, involving a combination of education and job experience.

For example, to qualify to take the Certified Culinarian exams, you need a high school diploma, GED or 100 hours of continuing education classes, as well as two years of experience. Or, you can qualify with an associate's degree and no experience. The Certified Executive Chef designation requires you to hold a high school diploma, GED or 250 continuing education credits as well as complete classes in food safety, nutrition and supervisory management. You also need to have accumulated three years of experience and supervised at least three full-time employees. To earn certification at any level, you need to pass written and practical examinations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For those who are interested in becoming a catering chef, they could also consider other similar careers in the cooking world. Being a cook is a possibility and would require many of the same skills and training. Cooks use a variety of kitchen equipment to prepare meals and desserts. Individuals also may be interested in becoming food service managers, a role which does not require cooking but instead deals with the day-to-day running of a restaurant and various managerial tasks.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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