A head chef is a highly skilled professional cook who oversees the operations of a restaurant or dining facility. They are responsible for the food that comes out of a kitchen, from conception to execution. While many of these professionals gain the necessary skills through work experience as line cooks, college programs in the culinary arts are widely available. Some cooks learn through apprenticeships.
Job Description of a Head Chef
A head chef, also sometimes known as a head cook, oversees many diverse aspects of a restaurant or eatery. They manage and work closely with other cooks, create menu items and determine food inventory needs. They are employed at a number of food service establishments or facilities, including universities, hospitals, residential care centers and catering companies. They may also work as personal chefs.
A head chef is often involved in staffing of the kitchen, developing menu offerings, forecasting supply needs and estimating costs. They are expected to make sure the restaurant meets all regulations, including sanitary and safety guidelines.
Head chefs mostly work in the back-of-house. They take part in the creation of recipes and the preparation of advanced items, while assigning less complicated tasks to sous chefs and cooks. A primary duty is the continued efficiency of the kitchen and production of consistent, quality food. But duties also extend to front-of-house and operational issues, including accounting and scheduling. Head chefs may also be called to weigh in on patron complaints.
Because they are held accountable for the success and failure of a restaurant, head chefs need to work long hours to ensure that the restaurant is functioning properly at all times. They work nights, weekends and holidays.
Education and Training Requirements
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most head chefs begin their careers as line cooks or food preparation workers and advance to higher positions with time and experience. On-the-job training is a major component of most kitchens.
Formal training in culinary arts is available through vocational schools, community colleges, culinary schools and university degree programs in hospitality. O*Net reports that 11 percent of chefs and head cooks have a high school diploma, while 44 percent hold an associate's degree. Many programs include an apprenticeship or internship to accompany coursework.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits training programs throughout the country. It also offers a number certification programs that allow chefs to demonstrate abilities and knowledge in culinary arts. Certification can help head chefs gain advancement and salary increases.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2015, chefs and head cooks earned an average annual salary of $45,920. The BLS predicted nine percent job growth in this profession from 2014-2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. Competition will be strong for higher paying positions, and the BLS noted that creative chefs and head cooks with experience and business skills will have the best employment prospects.