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How to Become a Chef: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a chef. Research the training requirements and education for chefs, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the culinary field. View article »

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  • 0:01 Should I Become A Chef?
  • 0:36 Career Requirements
  • 1:23 Steps To Becoming A Chef

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Video Transcript

Chef Requirements

  1. Complete a chef education program
  2. Gain chef experience
  3. Get certified

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; associate's or bachelor's degree beneficial
Degree Field Culinary arts or a program with similar training
Certification Voluntary from the American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Experience 1-5 years
Key Skills Business, leadership, and time management skills; creativity; manual dexterity
Computer Skills Use of various types of software such as Nutritionist Pro, IPro Restaurant Inventory, Barrington Software CookenPro Commercial, and ReServe Interactive Table Management Software
Technical Skills Use of kitchen tools such as cutlery, food slicers, graters, ranges, and food thermometers
Additional Skills Refined sense of taste and smell

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What education do you need to become a chef? Though the profession doesn't require formal training, many chefs get their starts in culinary arts programs, while others may choose to begin building the experience needed to be a chef immediately after earning their high school diplomas. To land a chef position, an individual typically must have one to five years of experience. Optional certification is available with the American Culinary Federation.

Key skills for chefs include business skills, leadership skills, creativity, manual dexterity, time-management skills, experience with kitchen tools, a refined sense of taste and smell, and computer skills.

As of 2018, the median salary for professional chefs was $48,460 per year.

Steps to Becoming a Chef

Step 1: Complete a Chef Education Program

Training to become a chef is usually provided at trade or vocational schools, colleges, or culinary institutes. Some culinary arts programs have the advantage of also teaching the business and management skills useful for executive chef or restaurant owner positions. Courses to become a chef may take include nutrition, culinary techniques, butchery, pastry preparation, and regional or specialty cuisine topics. Undergraduate certificate and degree programs are the most common for this field.

Success Tip:

  • Seek out internship opportunities. Some programs offer internships or cooperative education programs in which students can apply knowledge that they learn in the classroom in real-life settings. These programs can be great additions for students' resumes, as well as good opportunities to gain confidence in the kitchen.

Step 2: Gain Chef Experience

For some, the best chef study program is on-the-job experience. Those new to the culinary field will typically take entry-level kitchen positions as kitchen assistants or line cooks to gain work experience. After gaining several years of experience, they may be considered for promotions to chef positions. Another option for an aspiring chef is an apprenticeship program. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers apprenticeship programs that typically last two to three years and allow potential chefs to work full-time with experienced chefs.

Step 3: Get Certified

There are no state or federal mandates for chef certification, but certification can offer a competitive advantage when job hunting. The ACF awards many levels of chef certifications, including specialization certifications for personal and pastry chefs. Certification requirements vary by designation, but generally require a combination of education and experience, as well as completion of a written and practical examination. Recertification every five years is required to keep these credentials up-to-date.

Success Tip:

  • Earn multiple certifications. Potential employers may find a chef with several different certifications to be a particularly attractive job candidate. Earning multiple certifications shows that a chef has versatility and can assume many roles in a kitchen environment.

Learn to be a chef by earning a culinary education, seeking out internship opportunities, gaining experience working in a kitchen, and consider getting certified by the ACF in order to earn a median annual salary of $48,460.

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