How to Become a Cook

Learn how to become a cook. Research the educational options, possible work settings, various career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a cook.

Do I Want to Be a Cook?

Cooks work in restaurants and cafeterias and are responsible for preparing and cooking various appetizers, entrees and desserts. Before preparing and cooking food, cooks need to ensure the ingredients are fresh, the work area is clean and equipment is available. Cooks follow recipes, mix ingredients, and prepare various types of foods, like vegetable and meats, using various cooking methods, such as braising, steaming, baking and broiling. Many hours spent standing are required, and a certain amount of stress is involved with the need to work quickly, yet efficiently.

Job Requirements

While there are no formal training requirements to become a cook, prospective cooks need to complete some on-the-job training. Apprenticeship programs are available that can train cooks for careers in the field, and culinary programs are also available in vocational schools, colleges and culinary institutes. The table below includes the requirements to become a cook.

Common Requirements
Education Level High school**
Experience Training will need to be completed before beginning work as a cook**
Key Skills In addition to a strong ability to smell and taste, cooks need to be able to follow directions, stand for long periods of time and work as part of a team*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); **Monster.com (August 2012)

Step 1: Graduate from High School

While there are no postsecondary education requirements to work as a cook, many restaurants, cafeterias and other food service establishments prefer that applicants have at least a high school diploma. Taking courses in math can help prospective cooks with measuring ingredients and calculating portions. While some high school may offer culinary educational programs, students can also learn about making food in home economics courses.

Success Tip

  • Consider a part-time job. In high school, you can begin developing experience in the food service industry by cooking in a fast food restaurant. Additional career opportunities may be available in restaurants as a busser, hostess or as part of the wait staff.

Step 2: Complete a Culinary Apprenticeship

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits over 200 training and apprenticeship programs. A culinary apprenticeship combines academic coursework with on-the-job training. Apprentices will also receive a stipend for their work and gain experience in the field. Opportunities will be available to work in all sorts of food service establishments, including fine dining, catering and short order.

Step 3: Complete On-the-Job Training

On-the-job training will be part of the orientation process at all types of restaurants and cafeterias. It's important for newly hired cooks to learn what food items are on the menu and how to prepare certain meals. Each food service establishment has its own policies regarding garnishes, food preparation, computer systems and ordering food and supplies.

Success Tip

  • Obtain certification. Cooks may be eligible for the Certified Culinarian designation through the American Culinary Federation. Eligibility requirements include a high school and two years of experience. The organization also requires that you pass an examination.

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