How Can I Become a Professional Chef?

Explore the career requirements for professional chefs. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties, professional certifications and salary ranges 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 Professional Chef?

Professional chefs play leadership roles in the kitchens of dining establishments. They make sure that daily operations run smoothly, write menus, test new recipes and oversee food preparation. In addition, they inspect ingredients, equipment and work areas to make sure that all safety and sanitary protocols are strictly followed. There are two different levels of chefs, including executive chefs, who hold the top position in the kitchen, and sous chefs, who are second-in-command. While most chefs work in restaurants, they can also find jobs in private homes, tourism establishments and grocery stores. More details about this career can be found in the table below.

Degree Required Associate's degree recommended, bachelor's degree optional
Certification May be beneficial for promotion
Education Field of Study Culinary arts, hospitality
Key Responsibilities Supervising kitchen staff, preparing meals, inventing new recipes, hiring, ordering supplies
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 9% for chefs and head cooks*
Average Salary (May 2015) $45,920 for chefs and head cooks*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Will I Need to Become a Professional Chef?

When preparing for a career as a professional chef, you may want to consider earning an associate's degree or certificate in culinary arts. Bachelor's degree programs are also available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that it is possible to advance in the field with somewhat less formal training, if you have solid work experience (www.bls.gov). Additionally, chef-training programs may exist in large restaurant and hotel chains.

What Do the Programs Cover?

An associate's degree or certificate program in hospitality may consist of microeconomics, beverage management, macroeconomics and computer applications courses. Additionally, you might take technical writing, sanitation, advanced food preparation and supervisory management courses. A 2-year degree in culinary arts will offer classes such as menu designing, baking shop, kitchen layout and design, culinary purchasing and restaurant management. If you decide on a 4-year bachelor's degree, your curriculum will likely include classes such as food science, food production management, restaurant operations, financial management, hospitality accounting and social science.

You may be required to complete an internship, apprenticeship or cooperative learning experience as part of your formal education. Such programs give you the opportunity for hands-on learning under the supervision of experienced professional chefs. You'll practice food preparation techniques and learn how restaurant kitchens are operated.

What Duties Will I Have?

In addition to some food preparation duties, you may create new recipes, order food supplies and receive deliveries. You'll ensure that all grocery items are of good quality. As a professional head chef, you'll be in charge of hiring staff and scheduling them for work. While supervising workers, you'll need to ensure that meals are prepared with attention to quality and with a sense of promptness. It will also be your responsibility to see that kitchen areas are kept sanitized at all times, and that food is stored and cooked at proper temperatures, according to public health and safety regulations.

What Are the Advancement and Certification Options?

If you have a good amount of experience and the proper culinary training, advancement is possible. You can become a food service manager or an executive chef. Opportunities may exist to work in larger, more refined restaurants or hotels, or to teach in culinary institutes. You might also consider becoming a personal chef or starting your own restaurant or catering business. Obtaining certification, although not generally required, can increase your career prospects. The American Culinary Federation offers certification to chefs who have acquired both training and work experience (www.acfchefs.org).

What Salary Could I Expect?

According to the BLS, chefs and head cooks who were employed in restaurants and other eating places earned average annual wages of $42,180 in 2015. Salaries for those who worked in the traveler accommodation industry were higher, about $54,030, but there were considerably fewer jobs (just 14,390, compared with 73,320 in restaurants).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're looking for a supervisory position in a restaurant or other dining establishment, you might want to look into a job as a food service manager. Unlike chefs, managers play less of a role in food preparation itself, focusing their efforts on business operations. They are often in charge of hiring, purchasing, safety procedure implementation and budget management. These professionals don't need any formal education, but an undergraduate degree may boost your job prospects. Alternatively, if you are passionate about the culinary arts, you could consider getting a job as a cook, which could provide the experience you need to eventually advance to a chef position. Cooks are often trained on the job, but a formal culinary arts program could help you improve your skills.

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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