Master Cook: Education and Career Roadmap

Master cooks oversee and direct kitchen staff at restaurants and other food service businesses. No formal education is required, but kitchen experience is vital. Learn about the training and experience necessary to attain master cook status. View article »

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Video Transcript

Master Cooks

Education Required High school diploma or GED; completion of a culinary arts training program could be beneficial
Licensure or Certification Voluntary master chef certification offered by the American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Experience Several years of kitchen experience required
Key Skills Decision-making, communication, and leadership skills; ability to monitor others' performance; ability to use commercial kitchen equipment as well as database, ERP, and spreadsheet software
Salary $41,500 (2015 median annual wage for all chefs and head cooks)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Some establishments use the designation master cook to refer to upper-level line cooks in their kitchens. However, those seeking national recognition as culinary masters may want to consider pursuing the Certified Master Chef credential from the American Culinary Federation.

These experienced chefs are responsible for planning menus, developing recipes, maintaining a kitchen's inventory, and supervising other cooks. This occupation often requires long work days and can expose cooks to injury risks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chefs and head cooks, which are very similar positions to master cooks, can expect to earn a median annual salary of $41,500 as of May 2015.


While there are no formal education requirements for master cooks, most restaurants require a high school diploma or GED for employment. As with any career field, good grades are the first step towards becoming a master cook. While in high school, students should begin seriously thinking about why they want to work in a restaurant and sign up for any cooking-related courses.


To become a master cook, a candidate must have extensive kitchen experience. Most chefs spend many years on the job mastering different aspects of cooking before they are promoted. As potential master cooks gain experience they climb the chef's ladder, usually starting as line cooks. A cook should expect to spend years in the kitchen working and learning under other cooks in order to attain master cook status.

Culinary Training

While not necessary, it is usually beneficial to acquire some vocational training or cooking-specific coursework. There are a number of colleges and universities that offer culinary training and assist in job placement upon completion of a degree or certificate. In addition to learning how to cook, students who attend culinary school study food safety, restaurant law, and restaurant business administration. These courses are especially helpful for master cooks, who are often put in charge of food inventory and managing employees. These courses are also useful to cooks who aspire to open their own restaurants.

Additionally, the American Culinary Federation offers a Certified Master Chef designation to individuals who have earned prerequisite certifications after meeting experience and education requirements. A prospective Certified Master Chef must also pass an 8-day exam testing his or her cooking skills and culinary knowledge.

Prospective master cooks must graduate high school and gain as much experience in a professional kitchen as possible while also considering earning a degree in the culinary arts and/or the distinction of a Certified Master Chef from the American Culinary Federation.

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