Chefs do more than cook. In a professional setting, chefs are considered to be the most skilled cook in the kitchen. Their tasks include cooking, but also managing the kitchen staff, ordering food and other supplies, planning menus, and training/educating personnel.
They are responsible for inspecting equipment and maintaining safety, functionality, and sanitation of the work environment. This occupation is intense and often stressful, but most any chef with passion and talent agrees that it is rewarding.
Chefs must have a passion for all things culinary. People may choose to become chefs for various reasons, but providing for others, finding a creative outlet, participating in cultural traditions, and working in a challenging environment are a few.
To become a chef, it is essential to work well under pressure and be able to manage other people in the same environment. Quick decision making, efficient communication, and knowledge of business principles are a must for any successful chef.
Additional skills include use of kitchen tools, such as thermometers, cutlery, appliances, etc., and knowledge of food preparation and safety. It is also important to have a refined taste or palate when creating dishes.
Chef Work Environment
Chefs work wherever food is served, whether in private residences, hotels, resort areas, restaurants, or other varying establishments. Some kitchens are spacious and have top-of-the-art tools, while others are older, cramped, and may need modern updates due to efficiency or safety. Work conditions are not consistent.
Chefs are often fulltime employees, working long and non-traditional hours—during early mornings and late evenings, weekends, and holidays—as these are the busiest times in this business. Regardless, there is a lot of freedom in this job, depending on personal preferences and work ethic.
The job can be physically demanding; being a chef means standing for long periods of time, moving often among the kitchen and pantry, and enduring high temperatures. Chefs have a higher rate of injury and illness than typical occupations because of dangers, such as hot ovens, slippery floors, and sharp knives.
About 13% of chefs are self-employed and may run their own restaurants/businesses.
The median salary for a chef, in 2012, was $42,480. The lowest paid chefs make about $24,530, while the highest can be paid near $74,120. Geographic location, experience, and type of employment dictate salary.
Chef Career Outlook
The projected job growth for a chef is 5%, between 2012 and 2022. With an increase of population and wages, chefs will find more work; however, due to economic difficulties, many restaurants have chosen to use cooks and other employees to fulfill the duties of a chef.
Chefs with several years’ experience will probably have the most success at finding a job. Employers will need to fill vacancies with chefs who are creative and skilled in business affairs.
Although chefs can become so through work experience, many will receive formal training through accredited community colleges, culinary arts schools, and technical schools. Some chefs also gain experience through apprentice programs and in the armed forces. Culinary programs are increasingly popular and provide students with a lot of on-hands experience.
Step 1: Complete a culinary program. There is not one path of educational obtainment to become a chef. Many programs exist at many institutions. To become a higher paid chef and to compete well, attending a program in a culinary arts institute is most beneficial. Here students will learn the business and management aspects of running an establishment. Courses in culinary programs include techniques, nutrition, pastry preparation, butchery, cuisine topics, and regional/cultural cuisine. It is through these programs that a student can obtain an undergraduate degree or certificate. Working as an intern during this time will also give students extra experience and help with resume building.
Step 2: Get work experience. It’s not uncommon to start at the bottom after completing a degree. Most times, aspiring chefs start out as line cooks or kitchen assistants. Experience should eventually lead to a promotion. Apprenticeships are also an effective means of gaining experience. Many 2- to 3-year programs exist through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which leads to opportunities to work with experienced chefs on a fulltime basis.
Step 3: Become certified. While no requirements exist regarding licensure or certifications, chefs who have specific certifications will have an edge over the competition. Such credentials include preparing pastries or being a personal chef, and are offered through the ACF. Chefs with these credentials must complete educational and experiential work, as well as pass practical and written examinations. Recertification must be maintained every 5 years.