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Gourmet Chef: Education Requirements and Career Information

Working as a gourmet chef requires some formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and experience to see if this is the right career for you.

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Most successful gourmet chefs undertake both formal education and practical work experience in order to reach their career goals. Many will start out as line cooks even before entering culinary training programs, which can last anywhere from two to four years and frequently include required apprenticeships or internships. Work experience helps to boost a new chef's skills and opportunities for employment in this competitive field where the best-paid jobs are in upscale restaurants and at hotel resort properties.

Essential Information

Gourmet chefs create menus, prepare food and oversee culinary service teams in fine-dining restaurants. Chefs may begin as line cooks, and after gaining experience and training, they may work their way up to chef status. Apprenticeship programs and formal education programs in hospitality and the culinary arts are good options for would-be chefs. Job opportunities are quite competitive in this field and require management skills, culinary expertise and a passion for cooking.

Required Education Certificate or degree in the culinary arts, hospitality or a related field; apprentice programs are common for prospective chefs
Other Requirements Extensive professional experience in food service is typical
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% for chefs and head cooks
Median Salary (2015)* $41,500 for chefs and head cooks

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Gourmet Chef Education Requirements

A career as a gourmet chef typically entails extensive experience in food service and formal training in the culinary arts. Chefs usually gain experience as lower-level culinary workers, such as line cooks, before attending a training program and gaining promotion.

Training programs can be found in culinary and cooking schools or colleges that offer hospitality degrees. Such programs may last 2-4 years and focus on in-kitchen instruction. Students learn cooking methods, meal preparation, menu planning, safety procedures and sanitary food handling techniques. Students can apply for educational funding through financial aid programs or scholarships offered by culinary organizations, such as the National Restaurant Association.

While formal training is important, many chefs also receive on-the-job training. Formal culinary schools usually require students to complete an internship or apprenticeship program, which usually lasts about two years. Apprentices work under experienced executive chefs and gain valuable experience in restaurant or hotel kitchens.

Beginning chefs can seek apprenticeship opportunities through educational institutes accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). After completing formal training and gaining several years of experience, chefs may be eligible for professional certification through the ACF (www.acfchefs.org). Gourmet chef positions in fine-dining establishments are competitive, so aspiring chefs can use apprenticeships and certification to improve their leadership, communication and cooking skills.

Gourmet Chef Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs and head cooks earned a median annual wage of $41,500 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Wages vary for chefs depending on their skill level, region and employer.

Over half of all chefs were employed by restaurants or other eating establishments, and they earned an annual median salary of $37,930 in 2015. The highest-paid chefs typically work in hotel resorts and upscale restaurants. Employment of chefs and head cooks in general was expected to increase 9% from 2014-2024, which represents above-average job growth.

To succeed as a gourmet chef, be prepared to get a culinary education and work your way up from the bottom, gaining experience along the way. Once your education is complete, you can seek out professional certification which may help you compete for better jobs in a tight field. Salary and wages vary widely in this industry, depending on your skills, where you work, and in what part of the country you are located.

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