Pantry Cook: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a pantry cook. Learn about job duties, training requirements, job outlook and salary 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 Does a Pantry Cook Do?

A pantry cook, sometimes called a pantry chef, is a type of foodservice professional who primarily prepares cold dishes, such as salads, cheese boards and chilled soups. However, they typically work in restaurant or catering environments where they may sometimes be called to cook hot meals, so they must have a wide range of cooking skills. In addition, they are expected to carefully follow safety and sanitation protocols.

The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as a pantry cook.

Education Required Vocational certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree to enhance job prospects
Education Field of Study Culinary arts
Key Responsibilities Cooking, cutting and plating various cold dishes, including salads, cheese, gourmet prepared meats, caviar or fruit
Certification Certification is voluntary but helpful for career advancement
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% (for all cooks)*
Median Salary (2017) $36,000 (for all pantry chefs)**

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

What Is a Pantry Chef?

A pantry chef is also called a garde manger. Pantry chefs are mostly in charge of cold food, although they might prepare hot dishes as well. In this position, it could be your job to prepare salads, cheese, or charcuterie (gourmet prepared meats). You might also be in charge of caviar, chaud froid (gelatinous cold dish prepared from meat stock), fruit arrangements or food carvings. You must also be proficient at simmering, seasoning cold food, searing, curing and frying. Carving, cutting, tossing, crimping and marinating are also fundamental skills in this profession. Additionally, plating is an important of this job because a high value is placed on presentation.

As a pantry chef, you can find yourself in charge of complicated recipes, which require you to weigh many factors. For example, when preparing terrines or pâtés, you may have to balance the fats and proteins that will be added against those naturally occurring in the ingredients, taking into account the type of meat used, preparation methods, storage methods and serving temperature. Likewise, when preparing salads, you might consider the textures and flavors of different types of oils, how different vinegars pair with various types of lettuce or how the color of the ingredients affects the presentation.

What Training Do I Need?

You can get a job as a pantry chef with a certificate in culinary technology with a specialization in garde manger. However, many associate's and bachelor's degree programs in culinary arts include training in garde manger and may broaden your employment opportunities by training you in other areas as well.

In garde manger courses, you could learn about plated foods, buffet arrangements and reception foods. You could also learn about cold hors d'oeuvres, hot hors d'oeuvres, pâtés, forcemeats and terrines. Other areas of study could include salads, sausages, galantines, seafood and plate presentation.

How Do I Advance?

While certification is usually not required for employment, it can sometimes help you advance. In the United States, chefs are certified by The American Culinary Federation (ACF). The ACF includes garde manger in its Certified Sous Chef (CSC) credential. To be a certified sous chef, you need at least five years of experience as an entry-level food worker; alternatively, if you have an associate's degree in culinary arts, you only need to have three years of experience in the field. You must also have a high school diploma or its equivalent and at least 50 hours of postsecondary study. The CSC credential includes both a written and practical exam.

What Is the Job Outlook and Pay?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the employment of cooks, including pantry cooks, is expected to increase by 4% from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the national average for all occupations. However, the BLS reported that job prospects in this field were expected to be good, due to high turnover, although there may be more competition at upscale restaurants. The 10th to 90th percentile annual salary range (with bonuses) for pantry chefs was between $19,065 and $40,897, according to PayScale.com's January 2017 data. The median salary was $36,000.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of focusing on cold food preparation as a pantry chef, you could consider working in a cook job that focuses on hot food, such as a grill cook. Another option to consider is a job as a baker. Neither of these positions requires formal education, but postsecondary cooking programs can help build your skills. If you're looking to advance in the field, you could consider becoming a head cook, where you would be in charge of overseeing all kitchen operations, as well as business aspects of a restaurant. These professionals need at least a high school diploma and several years of experience.

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