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Chef: Educational Requirements for Becoming a Professional Chef

Professional chefs are culinary artists who prepare and cook food, as well as supervise other culinary professionals in the kitchen. They may work in restaurants, hotels, resorts, private residences and a variety of other food-service settings. Many chefs enter the occupation through entry-level positions and work their way up with training and experience.

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Professional Chef Educational Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professional chefs usually start out in the kitchen as line cooks or other lower-level workers (www.bls.gov). With experience, they may progress to more advanced positions and eventually become chefs. While education is not strictly required, many chefs combine experience with postsecondary training.

Formal Training Programs

Aspiring chefs may pursue formal training through culinary programs offered by community colleges, universities and culinary institutes. Some chefs complete certificate programs that typically last a few months, while others earn 2-year associate's or 4-year bachelor's degrees. Culinary programs focus on in-class instruction and hands-on training in the kitchen. Courses commonly include safety and sanitation, baking and cooking techniques, food preparation and nutrition. Depending on the program, students may be required to complete internship programs.

Apprenticeship Programs

Alternatively, potential chefs could also obtain culinary knowledge through formal apprenticeships, which combine hands-on training with classroom education. Culinary schools and food-industry organizations, such as the American Culinary Federation (ACF), sponsor apprenticeships. Apprenticeship opportunities may also be available through unions affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Voluntary Certification

Professional chefs can demonstrate their culinary skills and increase their advancement opportunities by earning voluntary certification. For example, the ACF offers 14 different certification designations for culinary professionals (www.acfchefs.org). Eligibility requirements vary by level of certification but typically entail minimal amounts of work experience and postsecondary education. Qualified candidates must pass both a written and practical exam. After becoming certified, chefs must renew certification every five years by completing at least 80 continuing education hours.

Chef Career Outlook

Jobs for chefs and head cooks were expected to decline by 1% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. Although there is a high turnover rate for this occupation, many restaurants have been trying to use cooks in place of chefs to save money. Chefs and head cooks made an average salary of $46,570 annually in May 2012.

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