Become A Chef
Anyone who enjoys cooking has probably thought about what it might be like to work as a high-end chef. But in reality, the road to becoming a chef takes time to travel. It requires countless hours of hard work, especially in the early years.
become a chef
The median pay for a chef or head cook is $53,380 per year or $25.66/hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, a chef needs proper training, which can come at a steep cost if you go the formal education route.
Still, there are no strict educational or training requirements to become a chef. Most gain the knowledge and skills during those long hours in the kitchen. However, those who want to reach head chef might take the culinary degree and apprenticeship route.
Other chefs may specialize in a certain type of food. For instance, the pastry chef focuses on desserts, cakes, and pastries. Some chefs handle cooking and administrative tasks, including hiring and firing staff, managing cash flow, acquiring investors, ordering ingredients, and more.
The formal culinary program is just the beginning. Working as a chef requires a great deal of experience, which is why fresh graduates probably won't immediately begin working as a chef. Additional training under the tutelage of a professional chef, whether it's through an internship or apprenticeship or simply through day-to-day work, will heighten the skills and knowledge every chef needs. As a bonus, work experience is a great networking opportunity.
Whether as a commis or chef de partie, with your experience and networking opportunities, you can get your first chef job. From here, you can work your way up to sous chef and eventually to head chef.
There are multiple skills, qualifications, and traits that are best for chefs, such as education, practical training, time management, creativity, ability to multitask, and passion. A person who possesses all these qualities is a good fit for the position. Let's have a look at important skills:
The worst part of my job is that it is physically demanding. Working in a kitchen means standing and moving around for hours. For me, working in a kitchen is hot and crowded. Sometimes, I also have to carry large pots of food from one place to another. Moreover, suffering injuries from knife cuts and hot plates have become a norm.
To become a chef, you need experience in a professional kitchen. Many chefs go to culinary school or complete a certificate or associate degree at a community college in order to learn the fine technical aspects of the trade.
You could earn while you learn, making money in various jobs in restaurant kitchens while you work toward the chef title. If you choose to get a culinary degree, associate programs can cost $5,000 to $15,000 a year. Tuition for dedicated culinary schools may cost as much as $30,000 annually.
A chef is a supervisor, someone who not only cooks, but may be responsible for creating recipes, managing schedules, pricing the menu, and managing costs. So simply graduating culinary school, while part of the puzzle, is not enough.
The multiple chefs and cooks in a kitchen have to be orchestrated in a way that achieves two primary and equally important objectives: 1) creating an enjoyable dining experience for restaurant patrons, and 2) ensuring that the restaurant turns a profit.
Chefs higher up in the kitchen hierarchy direct cooks and other kitchen workers to ensure quality and timeliness of meal preparation, while chefs lower in the hierarchy are more often responsible for cleaning, cutting, cooking, and plating food.
A chef is typically a highly-skilled culinarian with years of training and experience, while a cook is someone who has been taught to complete a task but may lack the technical knowledge skills, training, and certification to be considered a chef. Some people think of working as a cook to be a job, and working as a chef to be a career, but career cooks are also common.
Every restaurant and venue pays differently, and average salaries differ from state to state. In states like New York, California, and Oregon, the cost of living is higher, so chefs are generally paid better than equal positions in other states.
Certifications are another optional but highly recommended part of becoming a chef. If you supplement your degree and experience with certifications, you will be an even stronger candidate when you enter the workforce.
During your education you will shadow professional chefs in operational kitchens and accrue several weeks of experiential learning. If you decide to obtain certifications, you can expect to dedicate around 30 hours of coursework to earning one.
In every professional kitchen, many people work together to carry out tasks and get food to guests awaiting their meals. There are managerial chefs such as the Executive Chef, Sous Chef, and Senior Chef or Station Chef that oversee kitchen staff and ensure food excellence and adherence to safety requirements. Then there are specialty chefs and cooks that carry out the prepping, cooking, and cleaning.
It takes most people many years to make it to Executive Chef status. To become an Executive Chef, you must demonstrate not only cooking expertise, but also that you are a capable supervisor and leader. All other chefs in the kitchen count on the Executive Chef to give them direction and coaching, and the Executive Chef must also manage costs and pricing, menu and recipe development, inventory and ordering, and hiring/firing.
In some cases, a Chef Consultant is called in to offer second opinions on why a kitchen may be experiencing problems or struggling to stay afloat. To become a Chef Consultant, you must be a skilled culinarian and be knowledgeable about Hospitality and Restaurant Operations Management.
As a personal or private chef, you will be your own boss and need to have what it takes to run a business in order to succeed. These alternative career paths might be for you if you enjoy planning, cooking, providing customer service, and setting your own schedule.
A Chef Owner is a chef who partially or fully owns the restaurant they work in. Not every restaurant is owned by a chef, but it is common for people with culinary backgrounds to establish their own businesses.
To become a Chef Owner, you need a robust set of skills in both the Culinary Arts and Hospitality and Restaurant Operations Management. People well-suited to this role have sharp business and interpersonal skills and thrive under pressure.
In other words, the role of Specialty Cooks is not a managerial position, but one requiring hands-on cooking and a specific set of culinary expertise. These chefs may also be referred to as Station Chefs because they are in charge of a given station.
You, like many talented aspiring chefs, may be able to see yourself in any number of positions. This is when it becomes especially important to look past titles and hierarchies to the big picture aspects of being a chef that matter most to you.
Do you see yourself as a hands-on chef or as a leader of chefs? Cooks in specialty positions are often the ones who do most of the cooking, whereas chefs in managerial positions may spend less time with a knife in hand.
Would you prefer to make large meals for hundreds of people, as chefs do for catered events or in institutional cafeterias; cook for dining rooms with guests coming in and out, as chefs do in full service restaurants; or prepare small meals to suit the tastes of families or a single person, as a personal chef might?
Retail food establishments include grocery stores, food trucks, bakeries, candy makers, ice cream and gelato shops, and more. In the retail food category, chefs are typically more customer-facing than in restaurants.
Like any career, in the culinary world, networking is critical to job searching. Besides getting certifications and gaining as much hands-on, real-world experience as possible, growing your network is one of the best things you can do for yourself to build your career as a chef.
Culinary schools like Escoffier can prepare aspiring chefs with hands-on experience, instruction, and mentoring, but most kitchens still require chefs to demonstrate their skills and leadership capabilities over time to earn promotions. For the most part, everyone has to work their way up in a kitchen to get to the top.
Most chefs start in entry-level positions overseen by managerial or station chefs. It is common practice for chefs to be promoted to higher positions and take on more responsibilities after a while of being successful in such a position, especially in kitchens that adhere to traditional hierarchies like the Brigade de Cuisine.
Next there are the Kitchen Porters and Junior Chefs. Kitchen Porters may or may not assist with food preparation, as their services are typically requested on an as-needed basis. Above them are Station Chefs, who specialize in certain dishes, followed by the managerial chefs. As you move up the hierarchy, fewer chefs are needed for each role.
Another position you may have heard of is the Sommelier. A Sommelier is not a chef but a wine expert, and thus technically a front of house position. But the sommelier must work closely with chefs to curate wine pairings for changing menus and specific guest tastes. A sommelier must have extensive knowledge of food in order to understand how different wines can complement particular dishes. They usually report to the General Manager. You will most often see sommeliers in fine dining settings.
A culinary education ending in a degree or diploma is not strictly necessary when you want to become a chef, but one of these credentials from an accredited culinary school, college, or institute can greatly improve your job prospects.
Some people feel that working up through the ranks in professional kitchens is possible without a degree. While technically feasible, this approach proves difficult for many modern chefs. Even if you do manage to work your way up to a high-ranking position without a culinary degree, this title may not carry over to the next kitchen that hires you. A culinary diploma or degree is a set of credentials you can always take with you. 041b061a72