Professional Chef Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for professional chefs. Get the facts about salary, training requirements, job outlook and skills 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?

A professional chef directs food preparation and oversees kitchen operations in restaurants and other dining establishments. They are responsible for menu development and plating design, ensuring the quality of both the ingredients used and the presentation of the meal. On a daily basis, they are responsible for the supervision and training of cooks, as well as safety and sanitation assurance. Restaurants generally have positions for executive chefs, who hold the top job in the kitchen, as well as sous chefs, who function as the second-in-command. Some professional chefs also choose to work in private homes.

Chefs typically work in other kitchen positions before working their way to the chef role. An overview of items such as employment outlook, training and potential salary are highlighted in the table below.

Training Required On-the-job; postsecondary programs are available
Key Skills Time management, physical stamina, taste and smell, listening
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all chefs and head cooks)*
Average Salary (2015) $45,920 (for all chefs and head cooks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Salary Could I Earn as a Professional Chef?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs and head cooks earned an average annual salary of $45,920 in 2015 ( Many worked in full-service dining establishments, though professional chefs were also employed in hotels, entertainment attractions, government agencies and grocery suppliers. The highest-paid cooks and chefs were found in metropolitan West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL, Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL, and Lake-County-Kenosha County, WI, earning from $63,240 up to $63,550 that year.

What Education Will I Need?

You can earn a certificate, diploma or degree in either culinary arts or hospitality that can qualify you for a job as a chef, lead cook or kitchen assistant. Professional advancement opportunities depend on your level of training and experience, as well as your culinary talent.

Certificate and associate degree programs in culinary arts include classes in food service sanitation, baking, nutrition, menu planning, and ethnic dishes. Most of these programs give you ample hands-on training to practice and establish your own style. If you decide to enroll in a hospitality program, you could take courses in hospitality leadership, food production and management accounting with a few courses or electives in cooking, kitchen procedures and food handling. Most programs include an internship with an affiliated restaurant or dining establishment.

Bachelor's degree programs in hospitality management offer classes in hospitality law, restaurant management and special event coordination, as well as sales, marketing and financial accounting. A 4-year culinary arts major might include classes in culinary math, baking, cultural cuisines, food preparation, facilities management and dining room service. The type of program you select should depend on your previous experience and particular career goals.

Where Can I Get Trained?

You can choose to enroll in a private cooking institute that offers apprenticeship programs designed to build your cooking skills and provide you with mentored instruction from an experienced chef. Many large hotels and restaurants also offer on-the-job training if you don't mind starting in an entry-level support position. Many technical and vocational schools, community college and public universities offer several levels of education, from 1-year certificate programs to graduate studies in food science. The military also offers chef training on a very large scale.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The BLS expected a 9% increase in jobs for chefs and head cooks between 2014 and 2024. This rate is faster than the average for all occupations, which the BLS attributed to the public's increasing demand for dining convenience and healthy meal options. Some business knowledge provides you with an advantage in acquiring a job, particularly in restaurant chains where budgetary concerns are an important factor. You'll find the most competition for upscale restaurants that pay talented chefs higher salaries, though mastering a particular cultural cuisine might improve your opportunities for specialized establishments.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're looking for a leadership position at a dining establishment, you could think about getting a job as a food service manager. These professionals focus on the business aspects of restaurant operation, such as hiring, budgeting and inventory. You don't need a formal education for this job, but completing a business-related postsecondary program can improve your prospects. Another option for food enthusiasts is a job as a baker. Like chefs, these workers don't need formal education, but they can improve their skills by earning a culinary arts degree or certificate.

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