How to Become a Chef

What is a chef?

what is a chefThis is a broad term for someone who works in some of the best restaurants and luxurious hotels in town. It is a position that covers different areas in a kitchen like pastry chef, sushi chef, personal chef, etc. All basically cook but different things. For example, a pastry chef would concern themselves with deserts only. The chef is a highly skilled, trained professional cook who is proficient in all areas of food preparation of a particular cuisine. The word “chef” is derived from the term chef de cuisine, which means head of a kitchen.

Career information

When you become a chef you will be required to wear a uniform that includes a double-breasted jacket, apron, necktie, hat, which is called a togue, and apron. Your shoes must have plastic or steel toe=caps. The hat that is worn will help to prevent hair from shedding on the food and sweat from dripping down their face. The neckties were originally worn to allow the chef to mop the sweat from their faces but it is now against health regulations so it is mostly decorative.

When you become a chef, there are several positions that you can work in. The chef with the most seniority is considered to senior chef and it is their responsibility to keep a tab on the performance of the other chefs and guide them so the food items are make in the best way possible. As a chef, you will do a variety of different things such as preparing the food, preparing the menu, increasing contacts with the vendors, and making sure that the customers are totally satisfied with the food and service. A chef may do the task of ordering the supplies needed and then maintain the record of what they ordered.

It is also the responsibility of the chef to maintain cleanliness, safety, and hygiene in the kitchen. Cleanliness of the food that is prepared can be ensured by storing it in the correct manner. The chef will also play an important role in deciding how the food should be served to the customers. If you are a senior chef you will take note of any complaints that are received from the customers and try to find the right permanent solution for the complaint. A senior chef may also be entrusted with the responsibilities of hiring the skilled and talented professional cooks for the restaurant or hotel they work for. Another part of the job when you are a chef is practical and interactive learning sessions. The chef also fixes the quantities and sizes of the meals that will be served to the customers.

The profession of the chef is a varied career so there are many different tasks you will perform during your workday. What tasks you will do will depend on where you are working, such as a hotel, restaurant, cruise ship, resort, etc. As a chef you also will have various positions you can excel in such as a pastry chef, executive chef, more. To become a chef there are many different paths that you can take to become one, like experimenting with food dishes at home, taking a culinary arts class in high school and college.

Reasons to be a chef

There are many reasons why you would want to be a chef but the main two reasons is the love of food and the enjoyment you get from cooking. Other reasons can include:

  • Love to try new dishes
  • Love to make old dishes new ways
  • You get to unleash your creativity
  • The money
  • The prestige
  • The complements you get on your dishes
  • If you are a chef on a cruise ship you get to travel to different places
  • The opportunity to travel the world over tasting, learning new culinary specialties, and the experience of working with famous chefs

Required skills to become a chef

  • The ability to handle criticism—this is a skill that every chef will need. No matter how great a dish that they chef prepares there is always someone going to find fault with it and complain. You will need to know how to graciously take the criticism and offer the customer something else.
  • Attentiveness to detail—even if you are a first rate chef there is always someone that is just a little bit better so in order to be the best chef in town you need to pay attention to the little details and make sure that everything is done and presented to the customer in an attractive manner.
  • Being creative—this means trying new food and dishes on the menu and tweaking some of the well-known dishes to make them different and improve the dining experience of the customer.
  • Willingness to practice—you must be willing to practice their cooking techniques continually and to experiment with new dishes.
  • Being a team player—the chef is not the only person in the kitchen preparing food as there are others preparing the deserts, the vegetable dishes, etc.
  • Have a good sense of business—they should know how to effectively prepare the food and beverage items in a way that will maintain the efficiency of the kitchen along with helping to boost the profit of the establishment where they are working. They will also need a good sense of business if they plan to open their own restaurant.
  • Willing to learn modern equipment like large mixers, combi-ovens, etc
  • Learning how to manage large quantities of food and being able to know what they are going to need for the menu items so they do not overspend their budget.
  • Need to know how to use the right knife correctly for it is to be used for.
  • A keen sense of smell and taste
  • Efficient memory
  • The ability to work long hours on their feet, mainly evenings and weekends
  • Be able to work at a fast pace and under stress
  • Great dexterity
  • Time management
  • Communication skills

How long does it take to become a chef?

The one factor to take into consideration is whether you are going for a certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree, or apprenticeship program.

  • Certificate program—these can take 6 to 12 months to complete and will prepare you for line cook and prep cook positions
  • Associate’s degree—these are 2-year programs that will train you to become any position from line cook to chef.
  • Bachelor’s degree—these are a 4 year program that will train you for management positions
  • Apprenticeship program—this is either a 2 or 3 year full-time on-the-job training program. As an apprentice you have to complete at least 12 courses in culinary-related subjects. You are paid and can earn an optional culinary arts associate degree. If you want to know more about this program you can visit the American Culinary Federation’s

Normally you will have to have an associate’s degree before you can move on to get your bachelor’s degree so this will make 6 years before you can become a chef. It may be a little longer if there is an internship is offered.

How to become a chef?

When you decide that you want a career as a chef you should be practicing cooking as much as you can. Watch some of the great programs on television like The Food Network that will give you ideas on how you can expand your cooking. You can also read cookbooks written by famous chefs and cooking techniques. If you know that you want to become a chef while in high school see if they offer any classes that would help you in your career. There are some high schools that offer a culinary arts program at a trade school associated with the high school. What requirements and how long the program is will be something that you need to check at the high school you are attending as these programs can vary from school to school.

If this type of program is unavailable at your high school look to see if you can take some cooking classes in your community or you could apply to work in a restaurant, even a fast food restaurant. While going to culinary school, if it is possible, you should try to work in a restaurant to gain more experience. Going to culinary school you should first decide if you want a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree. Just before you graduate you should start submitting your resume. Many culinary schools have a job placement office that will help their graduates secure their first position.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) certifies chefs in 14 areas and if you have an associate’s degree you can take a practical and written exam that will lead you to have the designation of Certified Culinarian (CC). If you have 3 years work experience and an associate’s degree you will be qualified for the designation of Certified Sous Chef (CSC). You can also earn other designations as you gain more experience such as Certified Chef De Cuisine (CCC), Certified Executive Chef (CEC), and finally Certified Master Chef (CMC). The ACF will also certify pastry chefs and personal chefs.

When starting out you will not immediately step into a chef’s position but most likely be starting at the bottom and slowly work your way to becoming a chef. Most first jobs as a chef-in-training will be cleaning, chopping, peeling, and filling a variety of foods at a fast pace with accuracy. The next position will be preparing soups, salads, and appetizers. The next position is line chef/cook where you will prepare items that are based on food type and/or the type of cooking like grill cook. There are other positions you will have to experience before you become chef and it can take years of hard work before you reach the top.

Chef Schools

 In the United States there are many different culinary art programs available. When you are trying to decide which school you should attend here are some things that you should consider to help you make the right decision. One thing that a student should consider is the credentials of each program. It is advisable that you only seek programs that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation. The programs can vary in depth and length and some schools will offer several options. When you select a school you should decide whether you want to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or apprenticeship. Other things that you should consider when choosing a culinary arts program can include:

  • Programs that are designed to provide the necessary training to be certified by the American Culinary Federation after you graduate.
  • Apprenticeships play a large part in the education and advancement of chefs, the career and internship placement opportunities offered by the culinary universities can be a big consideration when you are selecting a program.
  • Most of the schools will have test kitchen facilities on site where the students learn the basics of cooking. These test kitchens will often serve a dual function as operating restaurants and allow the prospective chefs hands-on experience in a real professional environment.
  • You should also consider where the program alumni have been placed, such as the hotels, catering companies, and restaurants because those educational connections can provide employment and internship opportunities for the graduates.
  • How long the program is and what classes you will take.

Some of the different culinary schools that you can apply for are:

  • Institute of Culinary Education
  • Culinary Institute of America
  • Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts-Chicago
  • New England Culinary Institute
  • Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts

Chef Salary

What you will earn as a chef will depend on various factors such as education, previous experience, and location. For certified chefs that are working in smaller cities they will earn less than those that work in larger cities like San Francisco and New York. It also depends on which position you are currently working at. Starting out as a line chef you could be earning on average $19,000-$46,000 per year and a chef can earn on average a yearly salary of $33,000-$84,000 or more.

In addition to the salary there is the benefits package, which can include paid vacation and sick days, retirement plan, 401K. health insurance that may also cover your family, life insurance, profit sharing, having school paid when taking courses to further your education and career, and more.

Job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the job outlook between 2014 and 2024 is 9%, which is faster than average. When working as a chef you can expect a lot of competition for a job at upscale hotels and restaurants and casinos where the pay rate is typically the highest. The job opportunities will come from the need to replace workers who leave or retire from this occupation. The fastest growth rate is expected to be in food services, which includes restaurants. There are, after all, several opportunities and future outlook as a chef.

Similar/related jobs

There are many other jobs that you can get that are also chef’s jobs and have the word chef in their job title along with other’s that do not.

  • Chef de Cuisine—also referred to as head chef and is the top level and highest paid position in the kitchen. They oversee everything in the kitchen.
  • Executive chef—they plan menus, assures their standard and quality, directs food preparation, handles inventory, plans the plating design, etc.
  • Sous-chef—this chef is the second-in-command and will work as the chef on the chef’s days off. They are responsible for overlooking the line chefs. Introduces new equipment and techniques to the staff, helps to plan menus, and may or may not cook, etc.
  • Chef de Partie—these are also known as line chefs/cooks, station chefs, or senior chefs. They are assigned with a specific part of the meal and direct the prep work in the kitchen, there are various jobs that are associated with this position, each with their own special name such as boulanger, who makes the bread products, friturier, who makes all types of fired items , etc.
  • Sushi chef—this is a specialist who has been specifically trained to prepare vinegar rice with a topping of vegetables, fish, or meat. They may the rice per traditional Japanese standards and it can take many years of training with the masters of the art. They also are experts at preparing other conventional Japanese dishes. A prerequisite to becoming a sushi chef is to have the skill to cut raw fish called
  • Kosher chef—they hand the food ingredients and meal preparation to ensure that the food adheres to the conventions of the Jewish Halakhic Laws or Jewish Dietary Law. They will only prepare food that has been properly slaughtered and all blood must be drained from the meat before it is eaten. When the kosher meat is eaten it cannot be eaten with dairy.
  • Research chef—this chef experiments with different cooking methods and recipes to find ways to combine the art of cooking with food science. These chefs will usually work with companies that manufacture food that is pre-packaged. The focus on these recipes is on nutritional content, shelf life, and taste.
  • Freelance chef—also referred to as a personal chef can cook for a client in their home and will usually run a business and must consider planning, shopping, scheduling, marketing, and accounting. Some have assistants but most work alone and cook a few times a month in a client’s meals to eat and stocking their freezer with meals to last until the next visit.
  • Pastry chef—they are also known as patissier and are the professional dessert maker. They may work in a bakery, restaurant, hotel kitchen, or cruise ship. They make pies, cookies, cakes, etc. In some restaurants they only work with sweetened dough and do not make bread.

Conclusion about the career

When working as a chef there are several steps that you must climb before you can become the chef. The rungs in the ladder are:

  1. Sous chef—they assist the executive chef
  2. Demi chef—they concentrate on one specialty item
  3. Chef de Partie—an experienced chef that is in charge of overseeing the chefs that are just starting out.
  4. Chef de Cuisine—this is the top level chef and is commonly called the head chef who oversees everything in the kitchen

This career offers four paths that you can travel that will help you get your foot in the door to become a chef. You may not get a job in a 5 star restaurant or hotel at first but you can get the experience to move on to better establishments. If you get a job on a cruise ship this will give you an opportunity to travel and see new places.

Yes, the salary starting out is not all that great and you could probably make more in another job that does not require all that extra schooling and training but would that other job give you the satisfaction that a career as a chef. It will take time to make your way up the ladder but with hard work and dedication you can make it. Along the way you may find another type of chef job like pastry chef that you really enjoy doing and decide to work as this chef for a while. Being a chef offers you many chances for advancement and with advancement comes a raise. In time you may decide that you want to go into the catering business or start your own restaurant. As long as you maintain your passion for food and cooking, you will have a future ahead of you and a steady job.