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How to Become a Chef

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How to become a Chef

What chefs do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), chefs and head cooks are responsible for supervising the day-to-day operations in professional and private kitchens. Duties of chefs and head cooks may include food preparation, ensuring the availability and freshness of ingredients, menu planning, recipe development, supervising actions of food-preparation workers, and ensuring that safety and sanitation rules are followed. Chefs work in a variety of locations, including restaurants, lodging establishments and private homes. They usually work full-time and may work from early morning to late at night. Hours for chefs may also include weekends and holidays (BLS). Chef job titles may include executive chef, head cook, chef de cuisine, sous chef and personal chef (BLS).

How to become a chef

People who seek a career as a chef should have an understanding of the restaurant business, be creative, possess manual dexterity, have an excellent sense of taste and smell, be able to deal with a bustling work atmosphere, and be able to manage their time well, according to the BLS.

The BLS also reports that while some chefs gain culinary skills through work experience, others opt to receive education and training via a culinary arts educational program. Training and education may be gained through a community college, technical school, or other institutions offering culinary training.

Although steps vary, the traditional method to becoming a chef or head cook may include some or all of the following steps, the BLS reports:

  • Earn a high-school diploma or GED
  • Gain kitchen experience by getting hired and working as a line cook or similar position; learn professional kitchen skills through work experience
  • Be accepted to a formal apprenticeship program sponsored by a trade organization or similar. Look to the American Culinary Federation (ACF) for a list of sponsor apprenticeships
  • Attend and successfully complete a 2- or 4-year culinary training program. Check the ACF for accredited programs
  • While not necessary, some chefs may become certified by the ACF
  • Apply for employment

Additional training, qualifications or certification may be required for employment.

Career outlook for chefs and head cooks

The BLS projects employment of head cooks and chefs should have little or no growth from 2010 to 2020, and job prospects may be the most favorable for chefs who have several years of experience in the workplace along with restaurant business acumen and the ability to be creative in the kitchen. Full-services restaurants, lodging accommodations, and amusement and recreation establishments are among the industries that employed the most chefs and head cooks in 2011, reports the BLS. States with the highest employment level of chefs and head cooks in 2011 included California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania. In May 2011, the BLS reported national annual median earnings of $42,350 for chefs and head cooks, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned up to $24,770 and the highest-paid 10-percent earned up to $74,060.

Earnings may vary based on several factors such as training and professional experience, location and career opportunities and more.

Quick Facts: Chefs and Head Cooks          

2011 National Median Pay   $42,350 per year, $20.36 per hour
Entry Level Education    High school diploma or equivalent

Work Experience in a Related Occupation 


On-the-job Training    


Number of Jobs, 2011


Job Outlook, 2010-2020  

-1% nationally (little or no change)

Employment Change, 2010-2020   




Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Chefs and Head Cooks, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011, 35-1011 Chefs and Head Cooks, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes351011.htm

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