Head Chef: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a head chef. Get a quick view of the job duties and training requirements to see if a career as a head chef is right for you.

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Essential Information

A head chef is a highly skilled professional cook who oversees the operations of a restaurant or dining facility. They are responsible for the food that comes out of a kitchen from conception to execution. While many of these professionals gain the necessary skills through work experience as line cooks, college programs in the culinary arts are widely available. Some cooks learn through apprenticeships.

Required EducationHigh school diploma or equivalent; certificates, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts can be helpful
Other Requirements On-the-job training; certification is optional
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*5%
Average Salary (2013)*$46,620

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Head Chef

A head chef, also sometimes known as a head cook, oversees many diverse aspects of a restaurant or eatery. They are employed at a number of food service establishments or facilities, including universities, hospitals, residential care centers and catering companies. They may also work as personal chefs. They manage and work closely with other cooks, create menu items and determine food inventory needs.

Additional Duties

A head chef is often involved in staffing of the kitchen, developing menu offerings, forecasting supply needs and estimating costs. They are expected to make sure the restaurant meets all regulations, including sanitary and safety guidelines.

Head chefs mostly work in the back-of-house. They take part in the creation of recipes and the preparation of advanced items, while assigning less complicated tasks to sous chefs and cooks. A primary duty is the continued efficiency of the kitchen and production of consistent, quality food. But duties also extend to front-of-house and operational issues, including accounting and scheduling. Head chefs may also be called to weigh in on patron complaints.

Because they are held accountable for the success and failure of a restaurant, head chefs need to work long hours to ensure that the restaurant is functioning properly at all times. They work nights, weekends and holidays.

Education and Training Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), most head chefs begin their careers as line cooks or food preparation workers and advance to higher positions with time and experience. On-the-job training is a major component of most kitchens.

Formal training in culinary arts is available through vocational schools, community colleges, culinary schools and university degree programs in hospitality. O*Net reports that 41 percent of chefs and head cooks have a high school diploma or some college, while 44 percent hold an associate's degree (www.online.onetcenter.org). Many programs include an apprenticeship or internship to accompany coursework.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits training programs throughout the country. It also offers a number certification programs that allow chefs to demonstrate abilities and knowledge in culinary arts. Certification can help head chefs gain advancement and salary increases.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, chefs and head cooks earned an average annual salary of $46,620. The BLS predicted five percent job growth in this profession from 2012-2022, which is slower than the national average of 11% for all occupations. Competition will be strong, and the BLS noted that creative chefs and head cooks with experience and business skills will have the best employment prospects.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics