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How to Become a Chef: Is Starting Your Own Restaurant the Way to Go?

Find out if restaurant ownership is the right entrée to a chef career.

If TV reality shows are to be believed, the road to becoming an executive chef includes years of arduous on-the-job training and expensive culinary school. So it's not surprising that many would-be culinary professionals wonder if there's a shortcut to the process of how to become a chef.

One of the oft-suggested "fast tracks" is starting your own restaurant, but does that really guarantee that you're ready for the top kitchen spot? Or is a solid culinary education combined with ample experience—the usual answer to the question of how to become a chef—the only way to land a coveted position and build a world-class reputation in the field?

Starting Out

Becoming a chef is a matter of art as well as skill. As an executive chef, you'll need organizational and management prowess, and the basic kitchen techniques taught in every culinary program are a must. But with respect to the "art" portion of culinary art, there is a certain finesse and adeptness that comes only with experience.

That experience can't be absorbed by osmosis, simply from hanging around in a kitchen—or even owning your own restaurant. Ask any successful culinary executive, and they'll tell you how to become a chef: first, get a culinary education—whether formal or informal—and work your way up through the ranks in a professional kitchen.

According to the Chefs' Professional Agency, it can take five to ten years of experience to become a truly accomplished chef—but when you do, you'll be in possession of the exacting eye, sensitive palate, overwhelming patience and impeccable culinary skills you'll need in order to land a job as executive chef.

Starting a Restaurant Can Help You—Or Hinder You

Business skills don't necessarily translate into success as an executive chef if you don't have the culinary knowledge and experience to back it up. The Chefs' Professional Agency stresses that if your goal is to make it big in one of the food meccas like San Francisco or New York, there aren't any shortcuts. You need to start out at the lower rungs of the ladder in the setting where you want to work.

Not only that, it's difficult to be a great chef and a great manager. Food service management requires a set of specialized skills beyond those of any other business manager—knowing how to balance quality product with prices, address staffing needs, and attract customers in an industry that's widely known for its failure rates. It takes nearly superhuman abilities to successfully run a restaurant business while also handling the grueling schedule of an executive chef. It isn't impossible, but it certainly isn't the easy shortcut that it sounds like at first.


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