A chef is someone who’s been professionally trained in the culinary arts. Many chefs have specialties, whether it be in fine dining, pastry, etc. Chefs can find work almost anywhere—not just in standard restaurants. They can work for hotels, businesses, or for personally for affluent individuals.
How To Become A Chef
The best route to becoming a chef can be done in four simple steps: going to high school, getting certified, trying out culinary school, and working for a restaurant to get experience.
Get your GED/high school diploma
Get a high school education. It’s the highest level of education necessary to becoming a chef, and will supply you with basic math and language skills needed to survive in the kitchen.
It may not be required, but a certification in the culinary arts looks excellent on a resume, especially when you’re first trying to get a job in the industry. Chefs with certifications are more likely to be hired right away than those without. The American Culinary Federation offers certifications in a number of culinary specializations.
Go to culinary school
Going to culinary school is the perfect opportunity to practice your craft, and make connections with fellow chefs and important people in the industry. Once again, it’s not required, but you should highly consider it before diving right into applying for jobs.
Get a job at a restaurant
You may not start off right away as the head chef of a kitchen, but working at a restaurant in any position gives you taste of what your work environment will be like. It’s also a very good way to observe the art of professionalism and other healthy kitchen habits that all chefs are expected to practice.
Job Description / Responsibilities
A chef’s job is to create the most unique and quality food in the business to please his or her hungry customers and critics. Here are some prominent responsibilities associated with professionals in the culinary arts:
- Be collaborative. You must remember that you won’t be the only person in the kitchen, and that you’ll have to work with sous-chefs and line cooks.
- Be innovative. In order for your restaurant to stay afloat and compete with other businesses, you must be able to bring foods to the table that your customers won’t be able to find anywhere else.
- Practice cleanliness. You’ll not only be under the scrutiny of your customers, but also that of food critics and health inspectors. If you have a dirty kitchen, you have no business.
- Stay organized. A kitchen can be a hectic environment to work in. That’s why it’s crucial to stay on top of your orders, and get them to the correct customers in a timely fashion.
- Have basic math skills. Being a chef involves an incredible amount of measuring ingredients, keeping track of temperature levels, and watching the clock. If you’re unable to make these simple calculations, things could go horribly awry.
- Be personable. People like (and will hire) chefs with personality. Doors in catering, and perhaps the television industry will open up to you if you have charisma and good people skills.
- Be precise. From what’s on your menu to who you hire to be in your kitchen, you want your restaurant to exude a vibe closest to your wants. Not to mention, if chefs are working under you in the kitchen, you have to tell them exactly what you want/need in a dish in order for it to be perfect for the customer.
- Have reliable business partners. You’re going to need trustworthy, stable produce providers to have a relationship with in order to get the food you need.
- Keep up to date with standard kitchen practices. You don’t want to be blindsided, and make a silly mistake that could potentially cost you your kitchen.
- Have a fresh menu. The items on your menu should never be static. Have plenty of specials, and follow the cravings of your customers.
If you’re a member of the American Culinary Federation, a certification can cost anywhere from $175 to $335 depending on what area of expertise you want to go into. If you’re a nonmember, it will cost anywhere from $310 to $535. In terms of culinary school, the average cost is $10,000 to $13,000 a semester.
Luckily for people in the culinary arts, people will always be hungry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the positions needed for head chefs will grow 9% from 2014 to 2024. Meanwhile, food supervisor positions will grow by 10%
This faster than average growth is due to the amazing and innovative new ways food is being prepared. Appetizers and tapas are growing trends, and well as the increase in popularity of children’s food for adults (i.e. mac and cheese). More and more chefs are hopping on these trends, opening up the opportunity for more jobs and businesses.
The rise in need for food supervisor positions is most likely due to the recent outbreaks in the media of food contamination, such as the recent Chipotle scandal. More people are needed in the industry to make sure all chefs are keeping their kitchens happy and healthy.
The long-term prospects for a chef are higher with the more experience a chef has. If you are a certified chef with a degree from culinary school, you will not only get hired more often and for longer periods of time, but you will also be able to get back on your feet easier if worst comes to worst.
More than half of all chefs work in restaurants or other professional eating establishments.
Chefs are expected to work at least 40 hours a week at all times of day, due to the cooking process itself, meeting with food providers, writing menus, balancing restaurant books, and conversing with customers.
Foreseeable problems that could come up in a chef’s work environment all have to do with health. A chef has to make sure they have clean meat, non-spoiled produce, and sterile cooking surfaces and utensils, or run the risk of making their customers sick.
Starting fires and receiving burns are also possible hazards. In order to avoid this, a chef should make sure there’s a fire extinguisher in the kitchen at all times, and keep a close eye on stovetops or anything else that receives intense amounts of heat.
Because the culinary arts are such a broad field of study, there are plenty of resources to help aspiring chefs on their journey, especially in terms of journals and other literature.
- American Culinary Federation: This resource is where you can get certified as a chef, learn extensively about culinary education methods, and discover recipes and jobs.
- Professional Chef’s Association: This is another certification website, but it also gives you information on prestigious cooking competitions that are upcoming and in your area.
- American Personal & Private Chef Association: This association is specifically for chefs interested in working independently and privately for more affluent individuals and private businesses. It provides you with information on how to get insured, and it gives you plenty of options for job opportunities.
- Chef Crossing: This is a job search engine with the self-proclaimed “largest collection of chef jobs on earth.”
- Culinary Agents: Another job search engine, but it includes the opportunity to network with schools, businesses, and talent.
- Bon Appétit: This is an extensive chef’s magazine full of recipes, how to videos, and restaurants and travel tips.
- Food & Wine: A similar magazine to Bon Appétit, but includes specialty foods to make on holidays.
• The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs: This is the perfect guide for how to stay on top of your creativity as a chef. It’s full of flavors and unique recipes to get you inspired.
- The Professional Chef: This is the ultimate guide to professional cooking, and has been one of the renowned cooking manuals “of the decade.”
- Math for the Professional Kitchen: This helps teach you the practical math skills necessary for the kitchen.
The most important skills needed of the best chefs are related to having a lot of stamina (both mentally and physically) and patience for people and perfection. Here are the best and most specific qualities:
- Observant: Be mindful of food trends. Watch the activity in your kitchen closely. Have a keen eye for presentation.
- Creative: Put your own special flare in the work you do so that people remember your food. You may serve the same dishes as other restaurants, but if you create them in a different way, you’ll become memorable.
- Assertive: Considering you’re going to have to have control of multiple people in your kitchen, you’ll have to exude a great amount of leadership. In order to get your team to create the product you want, you’ll have to get them to respect your creative vision.
- Writing proficiency: Since you’ll have to create menus and write to food business liaisons, you’ll need to have competence in writing.
- Math proficiency: Keeping books and tallying up produce levels will require at least basic math skills.
- Amiable: Even though most of your job will take place in the kitchen, you will have to interact with customers occasionally and those you’re involved in business relationships with. Not to mention, if you’re a private chef, you’ll be in communication with your boss constantly.
- Energetic: Considering on average, a chef works more than 40 hours a week, it’s vital to be in good health and have high stamina.
- Trendy: Make sure that the concepts of your dishes are just and interesting as they are tasty.
- Thick-skinned: Being in a profession that involves giving your personal art to the public will ultimately lead to criticism. Take each comment with a grain of salt, but don’t let it interfere with your work.
- Patience: You can’t rush good food, unless you’re working for a fast food chain. Take time with your preparation and cleanliness.