Professional Cook: Career Profile, Employment Outlook and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for professional cooks. Get the facts about training requirements, job outlook 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 Professional Cook

Becoming a cook can lead to several culinary paths, but to get started, little training and education is needed. Professional cooks often work under a chef or head cook. They are tasked with ensuring they have fresh ingredients, measuring and mixing those ingredients according to recipes and then cooking meals. They are also responsible for arranging, garnishing and in some cases serving food. In this career, sanitation and safety are a must; cooks must make sure their workstation is kept clean and all leftover ingredients are stored properly. More information about the career can be found in this chart.

Training Required On-the-job; college-level culinary arts training programs are beneficial
Key Skills Sense of urgency, communication, hand-eye coordination, physical stamina, sense of smell and taste
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% (for all cooks)*
Median Salary (2015) $10.44 per hour (for all cooks)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Job Duties as a Professional Cook?

As a professional cook or chef, you are responsible for the preparation of meats, vegetables, fruits and other foods in a variety of establishments that serve food. Your exact duties depend upon the establishment where you work and your exact job title. As an entry-level prep cook you're given the simplest tasks, such as peeling and chopping fruits and vegetables, cleaning food preparation areas and ensuring food is stored properly.

More advanced cooks measure and mix ingredients, add seasoning, apply heat through frying, baking, roasting or other methods, and monitor the progress of cooked foods. In addition to food preparation tasks, you might also take on managerial and administrative functions as a head cook. These might include assigning duties to subordinates, monitoring food quality and sanitation, planning menus, ordering supplies and purchasing equipment.

Where Can I Work?

Restaurants, food manufacturers, cafeterias, caterers, grocery and specialty food stores, schools and private households are your potential employers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 2.3 million people worked as cooks in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Employment was projected to increase four percent to around 2.4 million from 2014-2024.

High turnover in the lower end of the industry creates numerous job openings, but competition is higher for better-paying chef and head cook positions. As of May 2015, fast food cooks earned a median annual salary of $19,080, cafeteria cooks earned $23,960 and restaurant cooks earned $23,100. Private household cooks earned $26,300 and chefs and head cooks earned $41,500.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

Most cooks acquire their skills on the job, but you can accelerate your career with formal training. Certificate programs in cooking and associate's degree programs in culinary arts are available from community colleges, culinary schools, and 4-year colleges and universities. The latter also offer bachelor's degree programs.

Certificate programs introduce you to the basics of kitchen operations and food preparation. Courses cover such topics as sauces, soups and stocks, baking fundamentals, nutrition and sanitation. Associate's degree programs include the same material as certificate programs, but often examine more advanced methods of cooking and add kitchen management and customer service-related content. Purchasing, quantity cooking and cost control are among the topics covered. Bachelor's degree programs provide the most comprehensive education in all phases of a food service operation. Courses may include food science, fine dining and various ethnic and international cuisines.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Aside from cooks, there are a few other available careers in a kitchen requiring limited education. Food preparation workers have many of the same jobs as cooks but are tasked with putting together non-cooked dishes. Chefs and head cooks do quite a bit of cooking but are also responsible for overseeing the operations of the cooks and food preparation workers. They some times are tasked with creating new recipes a food presentations as well. Bakers specialize in baked goods, and may be tasked with decorating them for special occasions, such as birthdays or weddings.

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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