Career Information on Becoming a Chef

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a chef. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Chefs oversee restaurant kitchens and are responsible for designing menus, developing original recipes and keeping their kitchen stocked with ingredients. The educational path to becoming a chef varies, but many students choose to complete 2-year or 4-year culinary arts programs. Apprenticeship programs are also available.

Required Education Varies, but can include on-the-job training, associate's or bachelor's degrees in culinary arts, and apprenticeships
Other Requirements Voluntary certification available through the American Culinary Federation
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 5% for chefs and head cooks*
Median Salary (2013) $42,490 for chefs and head cooks*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does It Take To Be A Chef?

In addition to years of training and professional experience, chefs must exhibit strong interpersonal and leadership skills. They are responsible for managing and inspiring an entire kitchen staff and motivating them to work efficiently without sacrificing quality. Chefs also undergo training in operating a business, maintaining an inventory of a kitchen, buying kitchen supplies and managing accounts.

Education and Training

All chefs need a high degree of training and professional experience before they are able to manage and maintain their own kitchen operation. Although many chefs have completed four-year university degrees, training can be completed at technical schools, culinary arts schools or community colleges. While in school, prospective chefs take courses in nutrition, food storage, portion control, inventory and purchasing.

They also learn how to handle and maintain kitchen equipment, proper knife technique and banquet service. Although formal programs are a great source of training, much of a chef's education comes from on-the-job training and apprenticeships. It is through their professional experience that chefs develop their keen sense of taste and smell, cultivate their creativity and develop their own systems of organization and cleanliness.

Career Advancement

Chefs who have vast professional experience and formal training are eligible for certification by the American Culinary Federation (www.acfchefs.org). Certification is not mandatory to work as a professional chef; however, it can lead to a higher salary and opportunities to work in bigger restaurants.

Chefs can advance into executive chef and food service management positions, and some chefs become freelancers and work as consultants to restaurateurs and kitchen equipment companies. Typically, advancement usually means working in a busier or more prestigious restaurant.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for chefs and head cooks are supposed to grow 5% over the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). Job growth is slower than average due to changes in the economy and fewer people eating at restaurants regularly. The BLS also noted that the median annual salary for chefs and head cooks was $42,490 in May 2013.

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    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
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    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
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    • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
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    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
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      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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      • Biomedical and Medical Engineering
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    • Indiana (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Notre Dame include:
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    Areas of study you may find at Georgetown University include:
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