How to Become a Chef

Written by

George D. Baker


August 14, 2014



Millions of people eat out at public food places on a daily basis. The public food service industry is very important to American culture. Chefs are trained workers that prepare and cook a wide variety of foods for a broad range of restaurants, hotels, and other food services facilities.

What does a chef do?

ChefFeatured1Chefs prepare and cook many different foods such as soups, salads, appetizers, side dishes, entrees, and desserts. They typically create recipes to prepare meals and add their own special ingredients. They measure, combine, and cook ingredients using a variety of kitchen equipment such as pans, pots, ovens, cutlery, grills, broilers, grinders, slicers, and blenders. They also plan menus, determine serving sizes, order food supplies, and estimate food requirements. Chefs often test new combinations and flavors to create unique recipes. They also determine the safest and most efficient way to cook new foods. Chefs also direct and supervise other workers in the kitchen. They supervise all kitchen operations to make sure meals are of high quality.

In a typical professional kitchen, say at a top restaurant or hotel, the executive chef is usually in charge. For many aspiring chefs, this is the top level to aspire to. Under the executive chef is the sous-chef. Other roles in the kitchen are assigned, based on the specialties or stations in the establishment. The different stations usually cover one food category and include roles such as chef de partie (station chef), patssier (pastry chef), poissonier (makes fish dishes), saucier, entremetier (works with egg dishes, soups, starches and vegetables) friturier (fry cook), gard manger (pantry chef), grillardin (grill chef) and rottisseur (cooks with roasted, braised and broiled meats). In larger kitchens, there will also be a tournant (all-purpose chef). The role involves moving from station to station, providing assistance to the other station chefs as needed.

At the entry level, however, most people joining the industry will start out as cooks working and often rotating under the different station chefs. While some cooks eventually go on to become executive chefs, many tend to specialize in one area, such as pastry.

What kind of training does a chef need?

Chefs typically need at least a high school diploma, but most employers prefer chefs who have postsecondary training. Many vocational and trade school programs offer courses in cooking, food safety and handling, nutrition, sanitation, slicing and dicing methods, and general business. There are also longer culinary degree programs at professional culinary institutes or independent cooking schools that offer certificates or 2 or 4 year degrees in culinary arts or hospitality. These programs offer training in upscale and fine-dining food preparation and training specialties such as advanced cooking methods, banquet cooking, and international cooking styles. Some restaurants and hotels operate their own job-placement and training programs for chefs. Some chefs also complete internships and apprenticeships. Many chefs also receive on the job training.

What are the prospects for a career as a chef?

Employment of chefs is projected to grow as fast as average for all professions, increasing 11% through 2016 (1). The growth and expansion of the food service industry will drive job growth. Traditionally, most jobs tend to be in the hotel and restaurant sector. Other sources of employment include schools, hospitals and other such institutions which provide catering services to their clients. More recently, there has been a growing interest in private chef services. According to the American Personal and Private Chef Association, there are 9,000 personal chefs in the US serving 72,000 customers, a number that is predicted to double in the next five years.

Overall, job prospects are expected to be very good, but with keen competition in high-end restaurants. Job openings will also arise from the need to replace chefs that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons. Self-employment is also common. 

How much do chefs make?

Currently, the middle 50% of chefs earned annual salaries between $58,187 and $88,703. The highest 10% earned annual salaries of more than $105,481 (2).

For anyone considering whether and how to become a chef, this is an excellent career option for people who enjoy cooking. Chefs must be quick, efficient, and able to effectively work as part of a team. Manual dexterity, creativity, a keen sense of smell and taste, and great communication are essential qualities of chefs. They must also have personal cleanliness and keep their work area clean and free of germs.

Take the Next Step to Becoming A Chef

Are you serious about becoming a Chef? Then you need to get the required skills and training to do it! To start your new career, first you must decide what school you want to enroll in, so you need to gather info about potential schools. Use the  College Mouse Degree Search tool  to find the right course and college for you, and get started towards your new dream job today! If you want more personalized assistance, call (888) 389-7996 TOLL FREE to speak with a college advisor, who will help you find the best college for you. After you sign up for your course, make sure you fill out and submit the FAFSA so you can take advantage of any financial aid currently available to you!

Written by:  George D. Baker

George D. Baker is a long-time contributor to College Mouse. Now retired, Mr. Baker volunteers at adult education programs in his local community.

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