How to Become a Gourmet Chef in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a gourmet chef. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Gourmet Chef?

Gourmet chefs are professional chefs who serve high-quality food at restaurants. Using specialty foods and advanced cooking techniques, you'll create dishes that are aesthetically pleasing and delicious. They may specialize in a particular type of cuisine, like French or Mediterranean, or they may be influenced by many types of food in their creation of new flavors and dishes. Often, chefs determine the focus and menu of a new restaurant. Head chefs are responsible for training sous chefs, who execute prep work and prepare dishes per the head chef's instructions. Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as a gourmet chef is right for you.

Training Required On-the-job training is common; postsecondary education is optional
Key Skills Communication, creativity, leadership, and time management
Certification Certification is optional
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: Finish High School

While having a high school education isn't necessary to enter the industry, it will help you get into culinary school, community college or technical school. If available, take cooking courses in high school and enroll in art classes. Consider computer, accounting and general business electives to gain the knowledge needed to operate a business. You can even begin cooking at home or get a job with a restaurant. Look into shadowing a gourmet chef or caterer to see what daily activities are like.

Step 2: Travel Abroad

If you're interested in creating dishes that are true to a region, consider traveling abroad. When in the country, you'll taste the food, try local ingredients and learn cultural dishes. You'll also see the difference between upscale classic cooking versus rustic country dishes. While abroad, you may decide to enter a culinary school or apprentice under a local chef. Study abroad opportunities may also be found within formal programs.

Step 3: Consider a Postsecondary Education

You might learn about becoming a gourmet chef under the supervision of one, but you can also prepare by going to formal classes. Culinary arts or hospitality programs can be found within 2- and 4-year colleges, as well as culinary schools. These programs use practice kitchens, where you'll learn about presentation, garnishes, food textures and flavor combinations. Culinary schools also offer programs in baking, restaurant management and culinary basics. Community colleges and technical schools have courses or certificates in cooking.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Some colleges work with local businesses to provide students with internships or apprenticeships. Chefs may also bring on graduates as sous chefs. While acting as a sous chef, you'll clean vegetables, trim meat, make basic dishes and prep ingredients for the chef. The executive or head chef will mentor you, teaching you other cooking techniques and how to run a business. You'll need to acquire many years of on-the-job experience and demonstrate leadership abilities to become known as a gourmet chef.

Step 5: Get Certified

Certification is completely voluntary, but it can establish your abilities to employers. You'll need various levels of education and experience, depending on which designation you're pursuing. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers 14 certifications, five of which apply to cooking professionals (www.acfchefs.org). As a gourmet chef you may want to consider the Certified Culinarian or the Certified Chef de Cuisine certifications.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals with an interest in cooking can also pursue jobs as general cooks or food preparation workers, both roles which would involve cooking without the pressure of being a head or gourmet chef. They could also become bakers or pastry chefs if they are interested in baking bread or creating desserts. Food service managers also work within the restaurant industry but more on the managerial side, as they are in charge of making sure the restaurant runs smoothly.

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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