Gourmet Chef: Career Profile, Job Outlook and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for gourmet chefs. Get the facts about available degrees, training, professional certifications and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Gourmet Chef?

Gourmet chefs prepare haute cuisine, or high-quality fare, associated with traditional French cooking. For these chefs, it is imperative that they inspect their ingredients and insure that they are not only fresh but of high quality. They also oversee and organize the operations of cooks and food preparation workers that serve them, maintain the sanitation of the kitchen and keep an inventory of supplies. Good gourmet chefs are expected to create new recipes and present them in aesthetic way. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma or equivalent is acceptable; associate's degree or bachelor's degree available
Education Field of Study Food preparation basics; sanitation; safety; design
Key Responsibilities Manage cook staff; plan menus; perform cooking demos
Certification American Culinary Federation offers 14 optional certifications
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9%* (all chefs and head cooks)
Median Salary (2016) $57,632** (executive chefs)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Will I Do as a Gourmet Chef?

Chefs can work in various types of restaurants. Gourmet chefs tend to work in high-end restaurants that use more unique ingredients and cook recipes that require a higher degree of difficulty. As a gourmet chef, you could work as a head chef, an executive chef or a sous chef (assistant chef). You'll check the quality of the ingredients, manage chefs and line cooks, inspect cooking utensils, maintain sanitation and plan menus. As a gourmet chef, you may instruct at cooking schools, own your own restaurant, work as a private chef or do live cooking demonstrations. You'll create your own recipes and possibly write cook books.

What Is the Career Outlook?

Depending upon your geographical location and business type, salaries for gourmet chefs vary considerably. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average salary in 2015 for chefs was $45,920 (www.bls.gov). The top five paying states for this profession were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Rhode Island. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for executive chefs was $57,632 as of October 2016.

Advancement to executive or head chef positions requires years of experience, which can be built by working as a line cook, prep cook or sous chef. Jobs in fine dining establishments will be competitive, reports the BLS, and job growth for all chefs and head cook positions will be faster than average, projected at 9% between 2014 and 2024.

What Should I Study?

You can pursue different options to become a gourmet chef, but you can expect many years of hard work, creativity, commitment and practice. Some gourmets are self-taught, while others have studied directly under the guidance of master chefs. You may also complete formal training through a culinary school. You should first consider taking individual cooking courses to understand what a culinary education is like.

Many colleges offer culinary arts departments and programs. Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available. You'll likely study the basics of food preparation, sanitation, safety and design. You'll explore flavors, pastry making and possibly cake decorating. These programs are generally taught in a kitchen setting and are hands-on. Once you've completed your studies, consider earning one of the 14 certifications offered by the American Culinary Federation (www.acfchefs.org). Five of these certifications are for professional chefs, and two are geared towards personal chefs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

In addition to other types of chefs, there are a number of careers related to gourmet chefs. Food service managers take on many of the same responsibilities as chefs, such as overseeing staff, but they focus more on the daily operations of an establishments, ensuring customers are satisfied with their experience and the establishment is profitable. Bakers produce baked goods; they use fresh ingredients to insure quality taste and manage stoves and ovens in a bakery. Food preparation workers work under chefs and carry out important tasks, such as slicing meat, fruits and vegetables and preparing beverages.

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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