As a chef, you will get to work in a restaurant and create new food dishes. Learning how to become a chef is the first step towards this exciting career. If you love to cook, this might be the perfect career choice for you.
A chef does more than just whip up delicious dishes. They are the top dog in the kitchen and oversee the entire staff. There are several paths you can take to become a chef. Before you learn how to become a chef, let’s look at the job duties of a chef.
Job Duties of a Chef
A chef will be in charge of the kitchen at a restaurant. This includes many duties, including:
- Making sure the kitchen runs smoothly
- Hiring staff
- Training Staff
- Creating menus
- Managing the inventory and budget for food
- Working with vendors
- Ensuring safety standards are consistently met
- Making sure the quality of the food is maintained
- Ensuring proper cooking techniques are used
Often, a chef will plate food and randomly taste dishes to ensure the quality. It’s also common for a chef to take on other managerial duties within the kitchen.
How To Become a Chef in 6 Steps
Step #1 – Start Working in a Restaurant
The first step towards a career as a chef is to start working in a restaurant, preferably in the kitchen. Gaining an entry-level position will help you gain experience. You can even start as a dishwasher or food runner and work your way up.
Working in a restaurant is something you can start doing while you’re still in high school. You can work as a dishwasher or food runner if you’re at least old enough to work in your state.
Step #2 – Finish High School
It will be hard to become a chef if you don’t finish high school. You want to make sure you finish high school or get your GED. This is your ticket to getting into a good culinary school
If your high school offers any type of cooking courses, take them. However, you may have to take cooking courses on your own time. Many high schools don’t offer these types of courses anymore. However, some high schools offer co-op programs for your senior year. This can allow you to work in a restaurant for half days while going to school for half days.
Step #3 – Complete Culinary School
Most chef positions in most restaurants will require culinary school. You will need to get a degree from a good culinary school. While it’s not always a requirement, it will certainly give you an advantage over the competition.
During culinary school, you will learn the necessary cooking skills. You can enter into a degree program in Culinary Arts or you can earn a diploma from a trade school. An associate or bachelor’s degree will open quite a few doors, however. You can even get a degree in baking and pastry arts if you prefer.
There are three types of culinary art degrees you will commonly find:
- Culinary Bachelor’s Degree – This will take around four years and will give you an impressive degree for your resume. You will learn cooking techniques, cuisines, and business management skills.
- Culinary Associate Degree – A two-year degree will give you many of the skills you need to get started as a chef.
- Culinary Certificate – The fastest option, a culinary certificate can be completed in one year or less. You will attend very intense classes with lots of practical training.
Step #4 – Gain Work Experience
You won’t jump out of culinary school and right into a chef position. Typically, you will work in a kitchen as a cook or in another lower-level position to gain experience. You can certainly work in a kitchen while attending culinary school, too.
If you prefer to skip getting a formal education, you might be able to enter into an apprenticeship. This can allow you to gain the experience you need as you work under a skilled chef.
Step #5 – Get Certifications
While you’re not required to be certified to become a chef, it can help. There are 16 total certifications you can get as a chef. The main options include:
- Certified Executive Chef (CEC)
- Certified Culinarian (CC)
- Certified Sous Chef (CSC)
- Certified Fundamentals Cook (CFC)
All of these certifications, along with many others, have value on your resume.
Step #6 – Work Your Way Up the Ladder
Every kitchen has a hierarchy with the Executive Chef at the top. Not all kitchens will have every position listed below, but the hierarchy is as follows:
- Executive Chef
- Chef De Cuisine
- Pastry Chef
- Sous Chef
- Chef De Partie
- Line Cooks
- Baker and Pastry Assistant
- Prep Cook
You will likely start as a prep cook, line cook, or baker and pastry assistant without much experience. It will take some experience to become a sous chef or pastry chef and even more to become an executive chef.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Chef
How much can I make as a chef?
The average annual salary for a chef is about $53K. Some very experienced chefs can make as much as $100K per year. It’s possible to make more if you work for the right employer, too. Luxurious restaurants and resorts will likely pay a higher salary.
Your location will also help to determine your salary as a chef. San Antonio is the highest paying location with Seattle, New York City, Dallas, and Atlanta all paying above the average salary.
What type of benefits do chefs usually get?
When you decide to become a chef, you will likely gain access to many employee benefits. Usually, as a chef, you will get health insurance with dental and vision insurance. You will likely get an employee discount and many free meals. Chefs also get paid time off and access to a 401(k), in most situations.
How long will culinary school take to complete?
There are a variety of culinary school programs you can choose from. They can last anywhere from one to four years. If you want to climb to the top of a prestigious restaurant kitchen, getting a four-year degree in culinary arts can be very helpful.
Do I have to attend a special culinary school to become a chef?
No. There are a few other options you can choose from. The most common paths for a chef to take include:
- Apprenticeship – You can work as an apprentice to gain the experience needed to become a chef. This career path offers the advantage of getting paid while learning. As an apprentice, you will get to learn from an experienced professional. It’s common for an apprenticeship to include coursework and to last up to three years.
- Vocational/Trade School – Another common choice is to attend a vocational or trade school. You can even start this type of program as a junior or senior in high school. It’s a much faster option and can help you gain the skills you need to get started in a kitchen faster.
- Community College – Many community colleges offer a certificate program or an associate’s degree in culinary arts. These programs can last one or two years and get you into a kitchen much faster.
- Four-Year College or University – Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s programs in culinary arts, food and nutrition, food service management, and food sciences.
While a special culinary school can give you an edge over the competition, there are many ways to gain the education and training you need to become a chef.
Do I have to work in a restaurant as a chef?
No. There are opportunities as a personal chef or private chef, as well. Someone hired to work in a home kitchen is usually known as a personal or private chef. You will come up with meal plans and help those with dietary restrictions.
It’s also possible to work for a catering company or even for a cruise line. Many chefs work in positions that are not specifically for a restaurant kitchen.
Is there a high demand for chefs?
Currently, there is a demand for chefs. This demand is expected to grow over the next ten years by about 11%. The demand is higher than the average of all occupations, as well.
Should I join any organizations as a chef?
It’s very common for professional chefs to join the American Culinary Federation. However, this isn’t the only organization that offers resources and benefits for chefs. You can also join the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the World Association of Chef Society, and the American Institute of Food and Wine. Several other organizations may also be available for chefs.
Those seeking a career in a restaurant kitchen will want to learn how to become a chef. You can start with gaining experience in high school before you go off to culinary school. With the right education, training, and experience, you can enjoy a rewarding career as a chef.