How to Become a Chef: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a chef. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the culinary field.

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Do I Want to Be a Chef?

Chefs are the most skilled cooks in a professional kitchen. Their tasks include preparing food, managing the cooking staff, training the cooking staff and ordering food supplies.

This career often requires professionals to work evenings, weekends and holidays. Because every meal is an evaluation of their skills, chefs can find the job to be quite stressful at times. For this same reason, however, the work can also be very rewarding, particularly to those chefs who develop reputations for creative, high-quality meals.

Job Requirements

Though the profession doesn't require formal training, many chefs get their starts in culinary arts programs, while others may choose to begin building experience immediately after earning their high school diplomas. To gain a chef position, an individual typically must gain up to five years of experience. Optional certification is available with the American Culinary Federation. The following table summarizes the requirements for chefs:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Education beyond a high school diploma or equivalent is not required; however, some chefs earn associate's or bachelor's degrees*
Degree Field Culinary arts or a program with similar training*
Certification Certification is not necessary, but some chefs choose to earn certification in various areas from the American Culinary Federation (ACF)*
Experience 1-5 years*
Key Skills Business skills, leadership skills, creativity, manual dexterity, time-management skills*
Computer Skills Chefs may use various types of software (i.e., Nutritionist Pro, IPro Restaurant Inventory, Barrington Software CookenPro Commercial and ReServe Interactive Table Management Software)**
Technical Skills Kitchen tools such as cutlery, food slicers, graters, ranges and food thermometers**
Additional Skills A refined sense of taste and smell is necessary when blending flavors and creating meals for diners**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Complete an Education Program

Chefs may receive training from trade or vocational schools, colleges or culinary institutes. Some culinary arts programs have the advantage of also teaching the business and management skills useful for executive chef or restaurant owner positions. Courses that students in these programs may take include nutrition, culinary techniques, butchery, pastry preparation and regional or specialty cuisine topics. Undergraduate certificates and degree programs are the most common for this field.

Success Tip:

  • Seek out internship opportunities. Some programs offer internships or cooperative education programs in which students can apply knowledge that they learn in the classroom in real-life settings. These programs can be great additions for students' resumes, as well as good opportunities to gain confidence in the kitchen.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Those new to the culinary field will typically take entry-level kitchen positions as kitchen assistants or line cooks to gain work experience. After gaining several years of experience, they may be considered for promotions to chef positions. Another option for an aspiring chef is an apprenticeship program. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers apprenticeship programs that typically last 2-3 years and allow potential chefs to work full-time with experienced chefs.

Step 3: Get Certified

There are no state or federal mandates for chef certification, but certification can offer a competitive advantage when job hunting. The ACF awards many levels of chef certifications, including specialization certifications for pastry and personal chefs. Certification requirements vary by designation, but generally require a combination of education and experience, as well as completion of a written and practical examination. Recertification every five years is required to keep these credentials up-to-date.

Success Tip:

  • Earn multiple certifications. Potential employers may find a chef with several different certifications to be a particularly attractive job candidate. Earning multiple certifications shows that a chef has versatility and can assume many roles in a kitchen environment.
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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
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    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
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    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
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      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
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    • Rhode Island (1 campus)
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