|Education Required||High school diploma or equivalent|
|Key Skills||Dexterity and knife skills; strong sense of taste and smell; ability to follow directions and work under pressure; physical stamina to stand for long periods|
|Salary||$22,050 (2015 average for prep cooks)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings from Monster.com (August 2012)
A prep cook is a culinary professional who prepares food to be cooked. This is an entry-level position in the culinary field. Prep cooks must have the dexterity to peel, cut, chop, and slice vegetables and other foods. It's also important they have a strong sense of taste and smell and be able to follow directions. The job is fast-paced and requires standing for long periods of time. Those starting their careers as prep cooks can put in the training necessary to move up the ladder to sous chef or head cook.
While there are no formal training requirements to become a prep cook, interested individuals need to know how to use kitchen knives and other cooking utensils. On-the-job training is generally required for employment; however, completing a postsecondary program as well might be beneficial to finding an entry-level position. On average, prep cooks earn about $22,050 per year as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
No formal education is required to become a prep cook, though students often have an opportunity to gain valuable culinary experience in high school. While some schools feature culinary arts programs, others offer more limited training, such as one or more home economics courses covering some aspects of cooking.
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Prep cooks find entry-level work in restaurants, resorts, and other food service establishments. As part of the orientation process, prep cooks complete on-the-job training. They not only develop an understanding of their role in the kitchen and their specific duties, they also learn about menu items and ways to prepare food.
In addition, because prep cooks work in all sorts of restaurants, choosing a restaurant type is an important part of the career preparation for this position. For example, as a prep cook, specializations include national and/or ethnic food establishments, steak houses, sushi places, and hamburger joints, among many others.
As a prep cook develops experience in the field, they might decide to pursue a line cook, chef, or head cook position. Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily operations at a restaurant or other type of food service establishment. Job duties include developing recipes, planning menus, and supervising cooks, among other roles.
Those prep cooks looking to fully advance their careers might also want to consider postsecondary training. Enrolling in a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program in culinary arts can enhance employment opportunities. Courses cover food preparation techniques, cooking methods, food safety and sanitation, and hospitality.
In order to become a prep cook, prospective employees should earn a high school diploma, obtain an entry-level position, receive on-the-job training, and look to advance their career through a certificate or degree program in addition to gaining extensive work experience.