How Do I Become a Certified Chef?

Explore the career requirements for certified chefs. Get the facts about education and certification options, job growth 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 Certified Chef?

A chef holds a leadership position in the kitchen of a restaurant or other dining establishment. They are responsible for staff supervision, menu development and safety inspections. Although certification is not required to get a job as a chef, there are professional organizations that offer voluntary credentialing options. Depending on their career goals, chefs can be certified by the American Culinary Federation as executive chefs, sous chefs or personal chefs, among other specialization options. These designations can lead to career advancement and/or higher pay.

To learn more about a career as a certified chef, check out the following table.

Education/Training Required Training can be completed on the job or through a formal education program
Education Field of Study Culinary arts, culinary arts management
Key Skills Creativity, dexterity, time management and communication skills
Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all chefs and head cooks)*
Median Salary (2015) $41,500 (for all chefs and head cooks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Degree Programs for Certified Chefs

Although you can become a certified chef without a college degree, an associate's degree program can provide you with formal training in culinary arts and science. An Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in culinary arts is a 2-year degree program that includes practical training at on-campus kitchens. Instructors in these programs are certified chefs and certified pastry chefs who'll work closely with you as you progress through the program.

You can also enroll in a Bachelor of Science in culinary arts or culinary arts management, which would provide further training in cooking and in the administrative side of the food and beverage industry. In addition to your culinary training, undergraduate degree programs include a liberal arts education in subjects like English, history, science and the humanities. Culinary arts courses will address such topics as these:

  • Nutrition
  • Baking
  • Pastry
  • World cuisines
  • Meat science
  • Food safety
  • Hospitality management

Your Certification Options

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) certifies chefs in 14 areas. If you have an associate's degree, you can take the written and practical exams that lead to the Certified Culinarian (CC) designation. An associate's degree and three years' work experience qualifies you for the Certified Sous Chef (CSC) designation. Further down the road, you could earn the Certified Chef De Cuisine (CCC), Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and Certified Master Chef (CMC) designations. The ACF also certifies personal chefs and pastry chefs.

Earnings Potential

The amount of money you earn as a certified chef depends on various factors, including location, education and previous experience. Certified chefs who work in smaller cities will generally earn less than those in large metropolitan areas, such as New York City and San Francisco. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that chefs and head cooks' median salary was $41,500 (www.bls.gov). The middle 50% earned between $30,840 and $57,110.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in supervising the kitchen of a dining establishment, you might also be interested in a career as a food service manager. These professionals oversee restaurant operations, including budgetary planning, food preparation and customer service. Like chefs, they can voluntarily earn a professional certification. Alternatively, if you are more interested in the culinary aspects of the food service industry, you could start by getting a job as a chef. No formal education is necessary, but completing an apprenticeship or a postsecondary degree or certificate program in culinary arts or a related field can help you boost your skills and eventually move up to a chef position.

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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