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Head Cook Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a head cook. Learn about training requirements, career outlook, key skills and salary to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Head Cook?

Head cooks manage a kitchen staff and oversee the food preparation process. They can work in restaurants, private homes and anywhere that food is served. Head cooks ensure the freshness and availability of ingredients by monitoring inventory. They may be responsible for planning menus and developing new and original recipes. Head cooks often hire and train cooks and other kitchen staff, as well as supervise them during food preparation to ensure that all safety rules and sanitation standards are met. Depending on their place of work, head cooks may have other administrative duties or be involved in marketing and promotion of their establishment. Learn about advancing through the ranks of cooks to a head cook role. Review the training options, along with information on salary, in the table below.

Degree Required None, though undergraduate certificates and degrees are increasingly common in the field
Training Required On-the-job training; apprenticeship is an option
Key Skills Time management, physical stamina, attention to detail, communication
Certification Certification is voluntary, but can lead to many career opportunities
Job Growth (2020-2030) 25% increase (for all chefs and head cooks)*
Average Salary (2020) $58,740 (for all chefs and head cooks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Programs for Head Cooks Are Available?

Most training at food establishments occurs on the job, and cooks rise in seniority as they accumulate experience. However, cooks who want to develop their skills and advance their careers can choose from culinary arts programs at the certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree levels. A small number of private, for-profit schools also offer master's degree programs.

Programs have the broad aim of training students in basic, intermediate and advanced food preparation techniques and introducing them to cuisines from diverse cultures. Course content covers the properties of ingredients (meats, vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes), high-volume production, sanitation, kitchen terminology, kitchen management and menu management. Schools typically have kitchens in which students can practice food handling directly. Many also provide internship opportunities at restaurants and other food establishments.

Where Could I Work?

Bars and nightclubs, restaurants, food service companies, golf courses, hotels and caterers are among the business entities that might employ more than one cook and thus are most likely to need the services of a head cook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) projected that for the years 2020-2030, employment of chefs and head cooks would increase 25%.

What Job Duties Will I Have?

As a head cook you are part administrator, part instructor, part floor manager and part cook. Your administrative duties may include ordering food and other supplies, hiring cooking staff, purchasing equipment, setting production schedules and setting menu prices. As an instructor, you may explain new recipes or new procedures for preparing, cooking and presenting foods.

As floor manager, you monitor and coordinate the work of subordinates to make sure all are performing their assigned tasks, set new assignments as needs arise and assure product quality and proper sanitation. As a cook you prepare food, decide how to present food, create decorative displays and collaborate with staffers on new recipes.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

As of May 2020, chefs and head cooks earned an average salary of $58,740, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chefs and head cooks working at restaurants earned an average annual income of $56,230; those with food service companies earned $62,120, and those employed through the federal government made an average income of $74,610, according to the bureau.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Bakers and food preparation workers are a couple of related jobs that do not require any formal education. Bakers specialize in preparing breads and a variety of baked goods, such as pastries. Food preparation workers help prepare food in a kitchen, often under the guidance of a head cook or chef. Food service managers are also similar, but require at least a high school diploma or equivalent. These workers oversee the daily activities of an eating establishment, such as managing the staff and checking on customer satisfaction.