How To Become a Professional Chef in 5 Steps (With FAQs)
Updated February 3, 2023
A chef is a culinary professional who oversees a kitchen and to become one, there are many paths you can take. Learning about the duties of a chef and the steps for becoming one can help you decide if it's a good job for you.
In this article, we explain how to become a chef and answer some frequently asked questions about this profession.
What does a chef do?
A chef monitors all kitchen activities during their shift. Most chefs start at an entry-level role, commonly known as a commis chef, and can advance their careers to a head chef position. While a head chef participates sparingly in food preparation, they often make sure the food prepared by other chefs is up to their standards by tasting, adding extra seasoning and reviewing presentations.
Other tasks for a chef might include:
Overseeing the operations of a kitchen
Managing food inventory and budget
Hiring and training staff
Managing vendor relationships
Maintaining quality control of food and cooking techniques
Supervising the use of safety standards
Surveying customers on service and quality
Related: Learn About Being a Chef
How to become a chef
The steps to becoming a chef can vary depending on your current education, skills and desire to learn. The following steps comprise the most common path to becoming a chef:
1. Start at an entry-level restaurant job
If you're interested in becoming a chef, getting experience in an entry-level position can help you learn some of the required skills, and help you decide if this is the path for you. Entry-level positions in a restaurant can include dishwasher, server or food runner. You can also look for a job as a line cook in a casual restaurant without experience to develop more skills in food preparation.
2. Earn your high school diploma or GED
Most employers seek chefs who have a high school diploma or GED. This is because a high school education is often required to apply for culinary school. Some professional culinary organizations also offer apprenticeship programs that ask for candidates to have a school diploma or GED before entering.
3. Graduate from culinary school
For most chef positions in restaurants and similar food industry companies, a degree from a culinary school can offer an advantage over other candidates. At culinary school, you can learn specialized skills and knowledge to help you sharpen your cooking abilities.
There are typically several culinary degrees or diplomas to choose from, depending on the school you attend and whether you plan to specialize. Depending on the program, the culinary school can take one to four years to complete.
4. Get applicable work experience
During your culinary program, it can be helpful to complete an internship or work part time to develop your professional skills. Once you graduate from culinary school, you can apply to full-time jobs in kitchens. You can also complete an apprenticeship to gain practical experience while also getting paid.
Related: 13 Culinary Jobs That Pay Well
5. Get your certification
Certification is typically optional for chefs, but it can help get you promoted or secure higher-level positions. This is because specialty culinary certification can enhance your expertise and allow you to develop more advanced culinary skills. Currently, the American Culinary Federation offers 16 certifications that can benefit chefs.
Some of the most common include:
Certified Fundamentals Cook (CFC): This is a basic certification for someone who does not have experience in commercial food services.
Certified Culinarian (CC): This is a basic certification for someone who has experience with commercial food services.
Certified Sous Chef (CSC): This certification is for someone interested in becoming an assistant to a head chef. Sous-chefs help to supervise the kitchen under the head chef.
Average salary and job outlook for a chef
The average salary for a chef is $62,328 per year. The salary for chefs depends on several factors, such as their experience and education levels. The size, type and location of the business where the chef works can also affect wages.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of professionals working as chefs and head cooks could increase by 15% from 2021 to 2031. The BLS says this increase may result from a growing demand for top-quality restaurants and dining experiences from the general public.
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
Related: How Much Money Do Chefs Make?
Frequently asked questions
How long does it take to complete culinary school?
The culinary school timeline depends on the program you choose and your pace. Most programs can take anywhere from one to four years, depending on the institution.
Are there other educational opportunities for a chef aside from culinary school?
Culinary school is more focused on becoming a chef and mastering culinary skills, but there are other programs available:
Community college: Many community colleges offer an associate degree or certificate in culinary arts. While community college isn't primarily focused on cooking, it tends to cost less to attend and students can take more general education classes that aren't usually offered at a culinary arts school.
Vocational/trade school: These programs are usually associated with juniors or seniors in high school and can be one of the faster ways to get training. Vocational/trade schools are meant to teach specific culinary skills that help prepare you to start in the kitchen.
Four-year college or university: Many universities offer food-related degrees for those who want to learn about a different aspect of culinary arts or management. You can earn a bachelor's degree in food sciences, food and nutrition, food service management and food technology.
Apprenticeship: You can complete a culinary apprenticeship if you want to gain practical experience while getting paid. As an apprentice chef, you'll shadow an experienced professional and eventually being performing tasks on your own. Many apprenticeships also include coursework, so you may be able to earn college credit. Apprenticeships could last one to three years.
What are the types of chef or culinary art degrees available?
There are a few different degrees, but the most common degrees or certificates for a chef to earn including:
Culinary certificate: This is one of the faster certificates to obtain, usually a year or less. Classes are intense, but you will get a lot of practical training.
Culinary associate degree: This is one of the most common degrees among chefs and takes two years to complete. This degree is offered at most community colleges or culinary art schools.
Culinary bachelor's degree: This type of degree is usually offered at a four-year institution and covers more than just culinary skills. You'll learn business management skills, cooking techniques and international cuisines.
What types of skills are employers looking for in a chef?
When hiring a chef, an employer seeks someone creative, especially with menu ideas. They look for someone who has a strong work ethic and can stand and move for extended periods in sometimes uncomfortable environments. Employers want a chef who has excellent attention to detail with a business sense.
Are there membership organizations or associations for chefs or the food industry?
There are quite a few. Still, the most common organizations are the American Culinary Federation, the World Association of Chef Societies, the American Institute of Food and Wine and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
What is a sous-chef?
A sous-chef is generally the assistant to the head or master chef. The sous-chef is second in command in the kitchen and plans and prepares food for plating. A sous-chef's tasks involve creating work schedules, training new kitchen staff, maintaining kitchen equipment, monitoring inventory and tasting menu items.
What is a personal chef?
A personal or private chef is someone who is hired to work in a client's home kitchen. Personal chefs meet with their clients to design specific meal plans around special dietary needs. Personal chefs often do the grocery shopping for the client's meals as well.
What are some common interview questions asked by employers?
Some of the most common interview questions are:
Where were you trained?
Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision in the kitchen and what was the outcome.
Who is your favorite chef?
What type of food do you typically prepare?
What trends do you see in the food and wine industry?
Tell me about a time when you were involved in creating a menu.
Please note that the companies mentioned in this article are not affiliated with Indeed.
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