How Do I Become a Chef?

Research what it takes to become a professional chef. Learn about formal and informal training opportunities, job responsibilities and optional certifications 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 Chef?

Whether working in popular, upscale restaurants or in more casual cafeterias, chefs are called upon to cook delicious food and to oversee operations in the kitchens in which they work. Chefs are responsible for ensuring the quality and freshness of their ingredients, creating original recipes, developing menus and presenting dishes in an appealing way. Chefs often hire and train new kitchen employees. They also supervise the work of cooks and food preparation workers, as well as maintain cleanliness in the kitchen and monitor compliance with safety regulations. Some chefs may have office tasks as well, like ordering inventory and promoting the business. The following chart gives an overview of the career.

Training Required On-the-job training and/or culinary coursework
Education Field of Study Culinary arts
Key Skills Preparing meals, following recipes, using cooking equipment, keeping your kitchen sanitary
Certification Optional
Projected Job Growth (2014-24) 9% for chefs and head cooks*
Median Salary (May 2015) $41,500 for chefs and head cooks*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Role of a Professional Chef?

Jobs in this field range from food preparation chefs to executive chefs, and they require varying levels of responsibility. To become successful and advance through the ranks, you must acquire excellent cooking and menu planning skills, foster an understanding of how ingredients work together and build a flair for creating visually appealing foods. In addition, you must be capable of managing and supervising kitchen staff and ensuring that customers are served quality food in a timely manner.

What Skills Will I Need?

To become a chef, you'll need extensive knowledge of the culinary arts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs must know how to check food quality and prepare meals using detailed recipes. You must know how to use various kinds of cooking equipment, determine food portions and run a clean and sanitary kitchen. According to the College Board, chefs must sometimes perform such tasks as hiring and terminating staff, maintaining financial records and offering customer service.

What Educational Training Should I Acquire?

You can pursue one of several paths toward becoming a chef. Many chefs learn their skills on the job. They work their way up through a restaurant's ranks and are gradually promoted from lower-ranking kitchen positions. Others receive formal training at private culinary schools, from community colleges or in university culinary arts programs.

While formal training isn't a strict requirement, it may open doors for employment. The BLS reported that many chefs participate in certificate or culinary degree programs, which can take 2-4 years to complete. A 2-year culinary arts program at a community college, for instance, might consist of courses on cooking principles, cost analysis, restaurant operations, advanced baking, inventory control and pastry arts. You may also locate an apprenticeship training program through a school of culinary arts.

Certification isn't required to become a chef, but it could lead to higher-paying jobs and career advancement. The American Culinary Federation offers certifications for chefs, including the Certified Culinarian (CC), the Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and the Certified Master Chef (CMC). You may qualify for certification if you have the requisite work experience and formal educational training.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Cooks and bakers have related careers that do not require formal education, but those interested may attend culinary school. Cooks will work under the supervision of a head cook or chef to prepare a wide array of foods. Bakers specialize in creating baked goods like breads, cakes and other sweets. Food service management is another option that requires at least a high school diploma or equivalent. These managers oversee the daily activities of establishments that serve food and drinks. They supervise staff and manage the business side of things.

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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