Become a Natural Food Chef: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Check out the requirements for becoming a natural food chef. Explore the job description and duties, and walk through the step-by-step process to begin a career as a chef using natural foods. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become A…
  • 1:07 Step 1: Master Food…
  • 2:46 Step 2: Find Employment
  • 3:40 Step 3: Earn Voluntary…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Natural Food Chef?

Degree Level None; certificate/degree programs available
Degree Fields Culinary arts, nutrition, natural foods
Training Apprenticeships/on-the-job training available
Certification Voluntary
Key Skills Knowledge of natural and organic foods; business, management, customer service, communication, time management, organizational, and motivational skills; ability to use food and nutrition focused software, culinary software, and Microsoft Excel; ability to create new recipes, manual dexterity, heightened sense of taste, and knife-handling skills
Salary $45,920 (2015 median for all chefs)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online job postings, ONet Online.

Natural food chefs prepare healthy cuisine that incorporates proper nutrition and fresh, minimally processed foods procured in season. They can work privately for individuals who have specific health concerns, or they might be employed by restaurants and caterers. Many natural chefs also teach their clients how to prepare natural foods. Similar to other chef positions, natural food chefs may spend many hours on their feet and sometimes work under stressful, time-restricted conditions.

The skills required of natural food chefs include extensive knowledge of natural and organic foods and the ability to use culinary and nutrition-focused software. They also need the ability to create new recipes, manual dexterity, heightened sense of taste and knife-handling skills. Some business and management capabilities are also required, like communication, organizational and motivational skills necessary for leading a culinary team. The path toward a career as a natural food chef is fairly straightforward. Let's walk through the steps.

Step 1: Master Food Preparation Skills

Although it's possible to break into the field through an apprenticeship or sufficient on-the-job training, natural food chefs often choose formal education to prepare for their career. They typically earn culinary certificates or degrees from culinary arts, cooking or technical schools. Another educational path is to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in hospitality, culinary arts, or a related field at a 2-year or 4-year college or university.

A culinary arts curriculum includes food preparation skills, food safety, sanitation, menu development, purchasing, nutrition and management skills. Specialized courses in baking, meat, seafood, banquet, volume, and a la carte food preparation may also be required. These programs also tend to incorporate internship or externship experiences.

When selecting a culinary arts program, seek programs focusing on natural foods. Programs specifically designed for natural food chefs may delve deeper into ingredient studies and include coursework that covers the role of food preparation and nutrition in treating health conditions and preventing disease.

Specialized natural foods coursework may include wheat-free baking, vegetable proteins, ethnic cooking, alternate ingredients appropriate for those with restricted diets and food preservation. These programs may also cover therapeutic food preparation for diners with specific health conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes. Natural food preparation programs typically emphasize organic, seasonal, whole or raw foods.

Step 2: Find Employment

Natural chefs can be employed in a variety of work settings. They may be employed in a private residence and cook for a family or individual. Many natural chefs who work privately serve individuals with health issues who are seeking wellness though nutrition. They may also work for restaurants or catering services that emphasize natural food.

Natural chefs also work in schools as teachers of natural cooking. They may teach full-time or in addition to their work as a natural chef. Often, natural chefs provide in-home instruction so that clients may learn to prepare healthy meals on their own. They may also teach group classes in the community.

Earnings for natural food chefs can vary greatly by work setting and level of experience, but overall, chefs earned an average annual salary of $45,920 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 3: Earn Voluntary Certification

Although not required, professional certification from the American Culinary Federation can aid in career advancement. Certification is available in 14 focus area. The certification requirements include varying combinations of education credentials and job experience, plus passage of written and practical exams. While certification in the area of natural food preparation isn't available, natural food chefs may seek certification as a cooking professional, bakery and pastry professional, or personal cooking professional, depending on their career goals.

Certification through the American Culinary Federation must be renewed every five years and typically requires continuing education. Natural food chefs can continue to earn additional American Culinary Federation certifications as their skills or interests change, including adding culinary administration and culinary educator certifications.

Most natural food chefs complete postsecondary culinary training before obtaining employment, and they may improve career opportunities by maintaining professional certification.

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