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Gourmet Chef: An Introduction to the Career Field of Gourmet Cooking

Becoming a gourmet chef requires extensive culinary education. Learn about the training requirements, job duties and job outlook to see if this is the right career for you.

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Gourmet chefs are the subset of professional chefs who work in fine dining restaurants or even sometimes in private homes. While being a regular chef might only need a high school diploma, gourmet chefs often have extensive culinary training either from culinary academies or college programs. In order to enter the very competitive field of fine dining, a gourmet chef will need to stand out from a crowd to potentially earn a median salary of $41,500 a year.

Essential Information

A gourmet chef usually works at fine dining restaurants or in private homes. Oftentimes, gourmet chefs act as supervisors of the kitchen staff. Chefs assign staff members to specific workstations, such as soups and sauces, vegetables or pastries. Although chefs choose the recipes, they do not always perform the bulk of the cooking and instead train staff members to prepare each dish. Optional certification is available through the American Culinary Federation.

Recommended Education Culinary training, apprenticeship
Other Requirements Voluntary certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% for all chefs and head cooks
Median Salary (2015)* $41,500 a year for all chefs and head cooks

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties of Gourmet Chefs

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that chefs, foodservice supervisors and head cooks manage all cooks and kitchen staff in restaurants or other food preparation establishments (www.bls.gov). At fine dining restaurants, gourmet chefs often create their own signature recipes. Most gourmet chefs instruct the kitchen staff on how to prepare and present food dishes. They still prepare meals themselves, but most of their time is spent supervising.

Chefs and head cooks routinely order fresh ingredients from vendors, inspect deliveries and monitor food supplies. Most chefs hire kitchen staff members and create weekly schedules for all workers. At some restaurants, gourmet chefs may focus purely on creating recipes and instructing kitchen staff members while foodservice supervisors deal with the business tasks of hiring workers, preparing budgets and balancing accounting ledgers.

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Gourmet Chef Training Programs

Although chefs and head cooks mainly require a high school diploma and experience in the foodservice industry, gourmet chefs often require extensive culinary training to meet the needs of fine dining restaurants. Culinary academies, colleges and other vocational institutes offer undergraduate degree programs in subjects like culinary arts and foodservice management. Coursework includes food sanitation, nutrition, meat preparation, pastries and menu development. Most programs also cover an array of cooking styles, including French and American, among others.

Apprenticeship programs are also available for chefs, such as those accredited by the American Culinary Federation. These allow students to learn the skills of cooking and food preparation from experienced gourmet chefs. Students gain factual knowledge in a classroom-like setting while also building up real world experience. Some apprenticeship programs can last 2-3 years. Upon completion, some apprentices are awarded either a credential or an associate's degree in culinary arts.

Employment Outlook for Gourmet Chefs

Between 2014 and 2024, the BLS predicted that open positions for chefs and head cooks would increase by 9%. Gourmet chefs looking for work at fine dining restaurants may experience more competition for jobs, which means workers may have to have more experience and education to be considered prospective candidates. Restaurants are also more likely to use regular cooks in place of chefs to cut costs.

While not required, there are several postsecondary programs and apprenticeships to train prospective gourmet chefs. Many chefs learn the craft on the job over many years. The overall job market for chefs in the restaurant industry is still growing, but chefs need to strengthen their skills to remain competitive.

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