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What Training Is Necessary for a Career As a Cook?

On-the-job training, certificate programs, and bachelor's and associate's degree programs can all prepare you for work as a cook. Keep reading to learn more about training options.

Career Overview

Training programs leading to a career as a cook can be found at colleges and universities, or through apprenticeship programs with organizations such as culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), some entry-level jobs working as a cook may be possible without the completion of high school.

Important Facts about this Occupation

Median Salary (2018)$26,530 (for restaurant cooks)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)6% growth (for cooks)
Professional Certification Offered by the American Culinary Federation
Work Environment Must be able to stand for long periods of time and work well in high-stress conditions; cooks work in kitchens filled with potential hazards such as knives, slippery floors and hot stoves leading to a relatively high rate of injury
Similar Occupations Bakers, chefs and head cooks, food and beverage servers, food service managers, caterers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

On-The-Job Training

One good way to get a jumpstart on your career as a cook is to work in a restaurant or a cafeteria while in high school or college. Working as a short-order cook, you can learn on the job. Most beginning workers start small with food handling and preparation and are gradually given more responsibilities.

Cooking apprenticeships are another way to receive on-the-job training. Many apprenticeships require applicants to be at least 17 years old and have a high school diploma or GED; passing a substance abuse screening may also be necessary. Completion of such an apprenticeship can last 2-3 years, depending on your level of experience. Additionally, the length of an apprenticeship may vary depending on the type of position you want to hold. Less training is required to work as a line cook, compared to the training and experience needed for executive chefs.

Certificate Programs

A one- or two-year certificate program leading to a career as a cook or chef includes courses like safety, sanitation, food preparation, customer service, nutrition, and menu planning. Many certificate programs include hands-on training in a restaurant or other location, working as a cook or chef.

Degree Programs

Two- or four-year culinary programs cover different types of training and even restaurant management. Students can choose a specific culinary focus, like pastries. Completion of such a formal training program will likely lead to an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.