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Professional Cook: Salary and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a professional cook. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and necessary experience to find out if this is the career for you.

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A professional cook works in a food outlet where they typically prepare and make food. Their specific duties vary by their positional rank. Most cooks must have prior kitchen experience to qualify, though they may choose to attend a culinary school, which often provides internships and apprenticeships.

Essential Information

A professional cook oversees cooking on a large scale, such as in a restaurant, cafeteria or diner. They prepare meals, supervise other cooks and ensure health regulations are followed. While there are no formal education requirements for this career, prospective professional cooks may benefit from attending culinary school or receiving an undergraduate degree in hospitality or culinary arts.

Required Education No formal requirements; candidates may benefit from the completion of a culinary program
Other Requirements Experience in food preparation and culinary arts may be beneficial
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all cooks
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $23,100 for restaurant cooks

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary

According to May 2015 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cook wages vary by field, location and place of employment. The annual median wage for restaurant cooks was $23,100, while cooks working for institutions and cafeterias earned $23,960. Cooks who were employed in large metropolitan areas averaged higher than the median figures.

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Career Information

A professional cook is responsible for meal planning and preparation, as well as the supervision of other cooks, if any, in restaurants and in other businesses where food is prepared and served. Other duties include ordering food supplies, hiring workers and ensuring that health and sanitation regulations are followed.

Education

Individuals seeking careers as professional cooks should enter a culinary institute or obtain an undergraduate degree in hospitality or culinary arts. Some restaurants offer their own culinary training program. Although a formal degree is not necessary for many cooking positions, they may increase advancement and career opportunities. Extensive experience and expertise are required of cooks without formal training or degrees.

Culinary training programs cover subjects such as the methods of cooking soup, sauces and meats. Students become prepared to take on multiple roles in food service by learning about food purchasing, catering, food preparation, restaurant operations, cake baking and sanitation, among other things.

Internships

Some culinary programs offer internship as part of their training. These internships allow students to develop their skills under the direction of experienced cooks. They work dining rooms, cafeterias and restaurants. Interns also learn business skills.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, job growth for cooks is projected to expand at an average rate of 4% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This growth is based on the public's need for convenience and the growing number of options for dining out. Job opportunities were greatest for the formally trained, especially at hotels and restaurants.

Professional cooks with extensive training and experience may go on to become personal chefs or restaurant owners, executive chefs or executive sous chefs. They sometimes become food service managers or cooking instructors.

A professional cook tends to several duties that are typically learned on-the-job, though culinary experience must be attained through demonstrable expertise or postsecondary training. Some individuals may pursue formal training through a culinary program or institute in order to be more competitive in the job market.

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