How to Become an Executive Chef: Education, Salary & Responsibilities

Get to know the work done by an executive chef and the skills you'll need to pursue this career. Find out more about the education requirements, median salary, and projected job growth for this industry. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Executive chefs are responsible for overseeing the production of food service in a restaurant. They also manage a variety of administrative tasks in order to ensure that all kitchen production is efficient and meets health and safety regulations. In the table below, you'll find more details for executive chefs.

Typical Education High school diploma; culinary arts degrees may offer advancement
Certification Not required; available through the American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Required Skills Cooking skills, creativity, physical stamina, business skills, sense of taste & smell
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 10% (chefs and head cooks)*
Median Income (2017) $45,950 (chefs and head cooks)*

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is the Role of an Executive Chef?

Executive chefs, also referred to as head chefs, oversee all preparation, cooking, and production processes of a kitchen that serves food to guests. Executive chefs may work in restaurants or for catering companies. They are responsible for creating and designing what will be offered on a menu and for ordering and maintaining a supply of the necessary ingredients. They are also responsible for ensuring that all food is fresh, prepared safely, and stored properly to meet all health code regulations. They often hire, train, and supervise all other kitchen staff, from sous chefs to dishwashers.

What Type of Training is Required of Executive Chefs?

Postsecondary education is not typically required of executive chefs. It is more common to gain on-the-job training by starting as a prep cook or a line cook and learning the fundamentals of working in a kitchen. However, attending a culinary arts school or completing a vocational cooking program allows an individual to gain experience in technical procedures such as food sanitation and inventory maintenance. These programs also allow students to explore different specializations, such as butchery, baked goods, or cooking for specific cuisines. Advanced training and extensive experience may be necessary to land executive chef jobs in upscale eating establishments. There are more than 200 postsecondary cooking programs across the US that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

What Certification is Available for Executive Chefs?

There are no mandatory certifications that an executive chef needs to acquire. However, there is a variety of certifications available through the American Culinary Federation (ACF). These are used to exemplify that a chef has an advanced understanding of both culinary practice and kitchen management. Each level of certification generally requires a certain number of years' experience and requires that candidates pass written and practical exams. These exams test one's knowledge of culinary fundamentals, craftsmanship skills, and sanitation understanding. The ACF requires that these types of certifications are renewed every 3-5 years.

What Type of Skills Should An Executive Chef Have?

The day-to-day work of an executive chef requires a variety of different skill sets. Executive chefs must be skilled in the fundamentals of cooking; they must draw upon their knowledge of how certain foods must be prepared and cooked properly. They must have a refined sense of taste and smell to know what foods pair well and how to satisfy different flavor palates. Creativity allows an executive chef to design unique and interesting meals for customers in a visually pleasing way. Physical stamina is essential for executive chefs, as well, because most of the work requires standing for long periods of time. Because of the administrative tasks required of executive chefs, business skills are essential in order to budget for ingredients and manage workers to ensure that a restaurant or business is profitable.

How Much Do Chefs Earn?

Chefs and head cooks, including executive chefs, earned a median income of $45,950 annually as of May 2017, says the BLS. Employment for chefs and head cooks is expected to grow 10% between 2016 and 2026. As incomes are projected to grow, the demand for high-quality meals and dining experiences is expected to grow as well. Most are employed full time; the work often consists of long hours, and their schedules commonly include early mornings, late nights, and weekend hours. Working in a kitchen can be unpredictable and fast-paced.

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