Everyone eats, and most of us cook at least a little, but if your talents and joys lie in the kitchen, consider getting a degree or certification as a chef. With that in hand, you can become a baker, a personal cook or even an executive chef.
Future chefs may pursue a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in culinary arts or related fields, depending on their interests. Much of the training is hands-on, and some examples of coursework include cooking, business management and nutrition.
Voluntary certification from the American Culinary Federation (ACF) requires both a written and a practical exam in which chefs must demonstrate culinary knowledge and proficiency in the kitchen. There are also mandatory coursework requirements for chefs seeking certification.
|Career||Executive Chef||Personal Cook||Baker|
|Education Requirements||High school diploma or equivalent, though postsecondary training is common||High school diploma or equivalent, though postsecondary training is common||High school diploma or equivalent, though postsecondary training is common|
|Other Requirements||Voluntary certification; on-the-job training||Voluntary certification; on-the-job training||Voluntary certification; on-the-job training|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||11%*||4%*||6% *|
|Mean Annual Wage (2018)||$52,160*||$41,240*||$28,660*|
Source: *U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Standing for long hours in a hot kitchen can be difficult, but those who have a passion for cooking often find working as a chef to be a rewarding profession. A chef's degree program provides instruction on preparing food, while certification for chefs may help professionals find better career opportunities. Individuals who have completed a chef's degree program or certification may find work as executive chefs, personal cooks, or bakers.
Executive chefs are in charge of making most major culinary decisions for restaurants, hotels, lodges and similar establishments. They design menus, price menu items, create new dishes, supervise kitchen operations, train subordinate chefs and order ingredients. These professionals often work in tandem with a kitchen manager to coordinate functions, such as ordering, receiving and budgeting.
The BLS reported the mean annual wage of all chefs and head cooks as $52,160 in May 2018. The BLS further stated that employment of chefs and head cooks was expected to increase much faster than average from 2018 to 2028, and that there would be stiff competition for higher-paying jobs at upscale restaurants, hotels and casinos.
Personal cooks work for a private family or individuals, preparing foods ranging from salads, soups, entrees and appetizers. Their duties include procuring groceries, preparing food, cleaning dishes, serving meals and managing private kitchen staff. They may work by themselves or with a team of personal cooks. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for private household cooks in May 2018 was $41,240. Employment in this area was projected by the BLS to decrease slower than average from 2018 to 2028.
Professional bakers provide desserts and breads for restaurants, supermarkets, food establishments and pastry shops. Commercial bakers work in facilities that mass-produce breads and pastries using high-volume automated machines. Retail bakers work in grocery stores or bakeries and produce specialty items in smaller quantities. Retail bakers often take customer orders for specialized baked goods. The BLS reported the mean annual wage for bakers was $28,660 in May 2018 and the profession was expected to grow as fast as the national average from 2018 to 2028.
Chefs or bakers may pursue advancement by starting their own restaurant or becoming personal caterers. They may have to build up a strong reputation or clientele in order to do so. Chefs also must demonstrate strong leadership and management skills for advancement. Those who wish to advance within the restaurant business may work at bigger restaurants or at the corporate level. Other chefs may wish to teach at culinary arts programs.
Cooking or baking professionally requires only a high school education, but if you wish to progress to the station of chef, a degree or accredited certification program is a clear asset. You'll learn and hone your skills both with food preparation and in related areas such as nutrition and business management. You can choose to look for work as a restaurant chef, as a personal cook or as a baker if you prefer the pastry and bread arts.