The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Chef
If you're interested in becoming a chef, read these tips and get cooking.
It's a Great Time to Become a Chef
With job growth in the restaurant industry (the National Restaurant Association projects 1.7 million new job opportunities in restaurants by 2025), it's truly a superb time to become a chef. And although chef jobs are always among the most competitive in the industry, culinary enthusiasts will find opportunity knocking in a number of growth areas, from locally produced food to ethnic and fusion cuisine.
Whether your dream is to become an executive chef in charge of a restaurant kitchen or a personal chef cooking up specialty meals for a private client, you'll want to take a look at our definitive guide to becoming a chef. Prospective chefs need to be as well prepared as possible—as well as having the right kind of temperament to cope with the fast pace and long hours.
Step One: Exploring Career Options
Here are some of the different jobs available to those with the intention to become a chef:
- Executive Chef: Also known as the chef de cuisine, an executive chef is in charge of all the food service operations of a restaurant or hotel kitchen. They supervise other cooks, direct meal preparation and assist food service managers, among other duties.
- Sous Chef: The executive chef's second-in-command. Besides assisting the executive chef, the sous chef takes charge in the absence of the head honcho.
- Pastry Chef/Patissier: Oversees the production of baked goods, pastries and desserts, including ordering supplies, supervising staff, and decorating baked goods and pastries.
- Station Chef/Chef de Partie or Line Cook: Responsible for a particular area of the kitchen, and works at an assigned station that's supplied with the ingredients and equipment needed for grilling, cooking vegetables, making sauces, etc.
- Pantry Supervisor/Garde Manger: A type of line cook that is responsible for cold food preparation, such as salads and other dishes that do not require extensive chef experience.
- Assistant Cook: Usually works as part of a team in the kitchen, reporting to the head cook or chef and assisting with preparation and cooking as needed.
- Personal Chef: Plans and prepares meals for private clients according to their tastes and specifications. May be self-employed or work for a company providing chef services.
Job titles tell you about a chef's specialty and level of seniority, but it's equally important to consider work environment when deciding on a career path. Chefs are needed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, resorts, correctional facilities, catering companies and colleges.
Step Two: Education, Experience and Salaries
There are different educational pathways to becoming a chef, depending on your ultimate career goal:
- A certificate or associate's degree in culinary arts from a community college or cooking school is the most common route for those who want to enter the field as quickly as possible and earn on-the-job experience.
- Those interested in related fields such as restaurant management, food writing or culinary education usually need a bachelor's or master's degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for chefs and head cooks is $56,310. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
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