Should I Become a Chef?
Chefs are the most skilled cooks in a professional kitchen. Their tasks include preparing food, managing the cooking staff, training the cooking staff and ordering food supplies.
This career often requires professionals to work evenings, weekends and holidays. Because every meal is an evaluation of their skills, chefs can find the job to be quite stressful at times. For this same reason, however, the work can also be very rewarding, particularly to those chefs who develop reputations for creative, high-quality meals.
Though the profession doesn't require formal training, many chefs get their starts in culinary arts programs, while others may choose to begin building experience immediately after earning their high school diplomas. To land a chef position, an individual typically must have one to five years of experience. Optional certification is available with the American Culinary Federation.
Key skills for chefs include business skills, leadership skills, creativity, manual dexterity, time-management skills, experience with kitchen tools, a refined sense of taste and smell and in some cases, computer skills.
As of 2015, the median salary for professional chefs was $41,500 per year.
Steps to Becoming a Chef
Step 1: Complete an Education Program
Chefs may receive training from trade or vocational schools, colleges or culinary institutes. Some culinary arts programs have the advantage of also teaching the business and management skills useful for executive chef or restaurant owner positions. Courses that students in these programs may take include nutrition, culinary techniques, butchery, pastry preparation and regional or specialty cuisine topics. Undergraduate certificate and degree programs are the most common for this field.
- Seek out internship opportunities. Some programs offer internships or cooperative education programs in which students can apply knowledge that they learn in the classroom in real-life settings. These programs can be great additions for students' resumes, as well as good opportunities to gain confidence in the kitchen.
Step 2: Gain Work Experience
Those new to the culinary field will typically take entry-level kitchen positions as kitchen assistants or line cooks to gain work experience. After gaining several years of experience, they may be considered for promotions to chef positions. Another option for an aspiring chef is an apprenticeship program. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers apprenticeship programs that typically last 2-3 years and allow potential chefs to work full-time with experienced chefs.
Step 3: Get Certified
There are no state or federal mandates for chef certification, but certification can offer a competitive advantage when job hunting. The ACF awards many levels of chef certifications, including specialization certifications for pastry and personal chefs. Certification requirements vary by designation, but generally require a combination of education and experience, as well as completion of a written and practical examination. Recertification every five years is required to keep these credentials up-to-date.
- Earn multiple certifications. Potential employers may find a chef with several different certifications to be a particularly attractive job candidate. Earning multiple certifications shows that a chef has versatility and can assume many roles in a kitchen environment.
Hopeful chefs should earn a culinary education, seek out internship opportunities, gain experience working in a kitchen and consider getting certified by the ACF in order to earn a median annual salary of $41,500.