How To Become a Chef Without Going To Culinary School
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If you have a passion for cooking and aspire to learn more about the restaurant industry and culinary arts, a career as a chef may be right for you. There are several ways you can become a chef, including practical experience and on-the-job training. Understanding the ways to become a chef without going to culinary school may help you make more informed decisions about your career goals as an aspiring chef.
In this article, we explain what a chef is, discuss their responsibilities, examine their average salary, explore different types of chefs and provide a step-by-step guide to help you become a chef without going to culinary school.
Related: How To Become a Chef
What is a chef?
A chef is a trained professional who has mastered a specialization in one or more cuisines. They are proficient in managing a team of skilled or entry-level cooks and members of kitchen staff. There is a managerial responsibility given to this position as they dictate and control the expenses, kitchen inventory, menu items and recipe elements as well as service and etiquette. Chefs also possess an in-depth knowledge of kitchen health and safety protocols and the proper handling and maintenance of kitchen equipment.
What does a chef do?
A chef supervises the functions of a kitchen during each phase of preparation and food service of a restaurant. A chef often sets the budget, creates the menu, prices each food item, maintains quality control and checks the safety and service while managing his cooking staff and preparing the dishes of the day. Chefs may strive for constant innovation in the culinary arts regarding the taste, appearance and presentation of many cuisines. Typical duties of a chef may include:
Managing relationships with vendors and distributors
Creating and maintaining the budget as established with the restaurant manager
Scheduling the duties of kitchen staff
Keeping up to date with recent trends and discussing the menu with members of kitchen staff
Overseeing proper sanitation and safety practices in the kitchen
Establishing and implementing a code of service and etiquette
Ensuring food and service is of the highest standard
Salary for chefs
The national average salary of a chef is $44,250 per year. This can vary based on employer, location, experience and specialization. The most common benefits enjoyed by chefs besides their incomes are commuter assistance, employee discounts, wellness programs, health and vision insurance and referral programs.
Related: How Do You Advance as a Chef?
What are the skills required to be a chef?
There are a variety of skills that may help you advance your career as a successful chef without the need for formal education. Developing the following skills may contribute to your success in this industry:
Attention to detail
Cooking is a science that often requires using the perfect balance between ingredients, temperature and flavor. Preparing any dish flawlessly requires a chef to have incredible attention to detail in terms of measurement, heat control, sizing, portions, precision and presentation. Developing a refined attention to detail may contribute to food consistency and quality of service.
Business acumen and decision-making
Successful chefs are often adept at making business decisions that are cost-effective and sustainable. Daily budgeting, pricing, maintaining regulatory body guidelines, taking care of customer service, inventory management, operations, ordering and hiring are also an important part of the job. Decision-making skills may also ensure the smooth operation of kitchen procedures during busy services.
Culinary expertise and creativity
As an aspiring chef, it may be helpful to know the different culinary techniques of preparing a multitude of dishes and cuisines. These can include baking, grilling, pastry-making, knife and tasting skills. Infusing these skills with creative thinking and experimentation may help a chef needs to come up with innovative dishes in their menu and improve their range of culinary techniques.
What are the types of chefs?
If you want to become a chef, it may be beneficial to have an idea about the roles and responsibilities of different kinds of chefs. Like any organization, running a kitchen depends on effective teamwork and each of these positions is indispensable to the overall performance of a restaurant. Below is a list of different chef positions and their responsibilities:
Commis chefs work as assistants to line cooks or chefs de partie. Commis chefs are often entry-level employees who have recently joined the kitchen workforce hoping to become a chef, and they are likely still undergoing apprenticeships. This position is often the first step for someone who wants to become a chef without going to culinary school. They may partake in rotational training to learn the basics of kitchen duties from their superiors.
Chef garde manger
Chef garde mangers prepare cold food like salads, caviar, chilled soups, fruit plates and cold desserts. A chef garde manger often has excellent knife skills, which include chopping, dicing, carving and cutting. Preparing cold meat and charcuterie are also part of their responsibilities.
Chefs de partie
Also called a station chef, line cook or line chef, a chef de partie runs a specific section of the kitchen according to their specialty. Depending on their culinary expertise and specialization, chef de partie titles include the following designations:
Boucher: A boucher is responsible for preparing meat, poultry, fish and seafood before passing them on to the corresponding stations.
Poissonnier: A poissonnier is responsible for preparing fish and seafood dishes.
Friturier: A friturier specializes in the preparation of fried items.
Grillardin: A grillardin is responsible for grilled and smoked items.
Patissier: Patissiers are pastry chefs who specialize in confectioneries, baked goods, pastries and desserts.
Rotisseur: A rotisseur is an expert in roasted and slow-cooked items.
Entremetier: A entremetier is a chef specializing in vegetables, soups, eggs and starches.
Saucier: A saucier is a chef specializing in creating sauces and gravy to complement the food.
Also known as the second chef, they are the second-in-command to the head chef. They take and implement the executive decisions of the head chef and manage the station chefs. Sous chefs are more hands on with service and running the day-to-day kitchen duties than head chefs.
Chef de cuisine
Chef de cuisine or the head chef is in control of the entire kitchen. From making menus and tasting the final dish to deciding on the cost cuts, the head chef could be present anywhere in the kitchen. You may consider the role of a chef de cuisine as similar to the CEO of a small organization.
How to become a chef without culinary school
Even if you choose not to go to culinary school, it's possible for you to pursue your career as a chef. Consider following these steps to become a chef without going to culinary school:
1. Consider your passion for food
Before making decisions about your career path as a chef, it's important to consider your passions and motivations for entering this field. Try to reflect on your reasons for pursuing a career as a chef. You may try to be experimental and bold with your cooking style as well. An excellent chef may strive to push culinary boundaries with their art by developing new and innovative recipes. A passionate and hard-working cook may be able to become a chef with passion, discipline, practice and dedication.
2. Develop your culinary skills
It may be beneficial to develop relevant skills and competencies while pursuing your career as a professional chef. There are many resources available to you for skill development, such as online training, certification courses, blogs or books to help you develop your culinary techniques. Consider the skills you may need to achieve your culinary career goals to decide which kind of training is best suited to your needs.
3. Join an apprenticeship
Joining an apprenticeship at a local restaurant or kitchen is a great way to gain practical experience as a chef. An apprenticeship could give you real-world knowledge and also help you decide which specialties or areas of expertise are right for you. During your apprenticeship, you may develop skills such as decision-making, time management, budgeting, servicing and kitchen operations.
4. Identify a mentor
As an entry-level employee in the professional culinary space, a mentor may be able to guide you to identify and foster your strengths as a chef. The supervision of an experienced chef may be a great substitute for culinary school. The right mentor will not only encourage the development of your skills, they may also provide opportunities for building your network and professional advancement in the industry.
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