What Is a Gourmet Chef?

Gourmet chefs use complex cooking skills and techniques to create dishes for restaurant patrons or clientele. Read on to learn more about what a gourmet chef does and how you can train to become one.

What a Gourmet Chef Does

Gourmet chefs, also known as executive or head chefs, are known not only for their advanced culinary skills, but also for their discriminating palates. These chefs cook complex gourmet dishes with ease using quality ingredients and specialized cooking techniques. They may also specialize in an ethnic or regional cuisine, such as classic French or contemporary Asian cuisine.

You may be aware of the fact that gourmet chefs prepare, cook and plate dishes. But did you know that they are also responsible for seeing to a kitchen's administrative duties? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs must ensure that a kitchen can pass safety and health service inspections. They also order food supplies, plan menus, ensure the quality of finished dishes and supervise the work of other cooks and kitchen workers.

Important Facts About Chefs and Head Cooks

Median Salary (2018) $48,460 per year*
Entry-level Education High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job Training None required
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 10% growth*
Work Environment Restaurants, hotels, private homes, food service facilities

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Many aspiring chefs learn cooking fundamentals on the job. You can begin as a food preparation worker, cutting and measuring a recipe's ingredients, or as a line cook, preparing entrees or side dishes for a restaurant's meal service, according to the BLS.

Aspiring gourmet chefs can also receive training through a culinary institute or college's culinary arts associate's and bachelor's degree programs. These programs train students in knife skills, food presentation, food safety and sanitation, nutrition, menu development and food purchasing. You'll also learn how to cook American and international cuisines, baked goods, soups and sauces. Culinary arts bachelor's degree programs often include additional coursework in food service and hospitality management topics such as marketing, finance and human resources leadership.

Some schools offer certificate or diploma programs directly in the field of gourmet cooking. These programs are often very hands-on and include laboratories where you can learn how to cook specific dishes. For example, you may learn how to sear beef and other meats, stuff chicken and other poultry, cook seafood and prepare pastas and grains. You can also learn skills like preparing eggs in various forms, sun drying tomatoes, caramelizing onions, baking phyllo pastries and creating hors d'oeuvres.

Career Information

Gourmet chefs are employed by wealthy individuals, fine restaurants and resorts. They may also teach at culinary schools or own their own restaurants. The BLS explains that, whether you begin your career with on-the-job experience or a culinary arts training program, you will still need years of experience to become a gourmet chef. You can advance in the field by demonstrating your creative, culinary and management skills.

The BLS predicts that between 2016 and 2026, there will be a 10% increase in job opportunities for chefs and head cooks, including gourmet chefs, that would create approximately 14,000 new jobs. The mean annual salary for chefs was $52,160 as of May 2018, though the top 10% of earners made $81,150 or more that year.