Becoming a chef is a fun and fulfilling career path, but it also requires a significant amount of training and education. Most chefs have postsecondary education, and some have a bachelor's or master's degree. But this isn't the only path. There are plenty of self-taught chefs running kitchens around the world without a single second spent inside a culinary school. You don't need any special degree or certification to start experimenting in the kitchen. Anyone can do it, and there's no better teacher than experience. There are many different types of chefs, each with their own area of expertise.
While most chefs have at least a bachelor’s degree, a culinary school degree can be completed in about 2–4 years. Many culinary schools offer online programs for those who cannot attend school full-time. In addition to a degree, most employers also require that cooks and chefs have at least a few years of experience in the field.
What Does a Chef Do?
Chefs are professionals who make food for a living. Yet there are many different types of chefs with different responsibilities and skills. Together, they are responsible for preparing food and helping a kitchen run smoothly. Chefs higher up in the kitchen hierarchy direct cooks and other kitchen workers to ensure the quality and timeliness of meal preparation, while chefs lower in the hierarchy are more often responsible for cleaning, cutting, cooking, and plating food.
Chefs must also keep their staff well-trained and knowledgeable about the menu, ingredients, and cooking methods. Additionally, chefs must maintain order in their kitchen and keep track of inventory to make sure that they have the right amount of food on hand to keep production at a maximum. They may also have to work with suppliers to make sure that their restaurant has the best products and equipment for the best price.
Types of Chefs
There are various different options when it comes to gaining the title of chef. Their backgrounds and expertise vary, too. Some specialize in a certain cuisine, like Italian or French. Others may focus on a type of food, like seafood or vegetarian. Aspiring cooks should consider what they enjoy most about the culinary arts before choosing a career path.
Some of the different types are:
Chefs de Partie
Food Service or Restaurant Manager
Executive chefs are the top dogs of the kitchen. They are responsible for overseeing all kitchen operations at hotels, resorts, and other large establishments. These chefs have years of experience in the industry and a wide breadth of knowledge about food and cooking techniques, as well as managerial skills.
Sous Chefs are the second in command in any kitchen. They are the ones who hold the position just below the executive chef. The sous chef assists the head chef and often fills in for them if they are absent. They are responsible for a particular area of the kitchen, such as purchasing food, inventory, or personnel issues. They are the ones who keep order in a hectic kitchen, often serving as a mentor to junior chefs.
A Chefs de Partie is the head of a particular station in a restaurant or kitchen, such as seafood, meat, or produce. The term refers to the position a chef holds while working, such as sautéing or grilling food on a stove. The chef de partie is in charge of the team who works at that station and is responsible for ensuring that everything is cooked correctly and that all hygiene standards are met.
Pastry Chefs are responsible for creating desserts, cakes, tarts, and other sweet treats that are served in restaurants, hotels, and other establishments. Pastry chefs must have a firm understanding of all the ingredients and techniques that go into creating their desserts. They must also have the creativity needed to create unique and interesting desserts that will please their customers.
A Personal Chef is a professional who plans, shops for, and cooks nutritious meals for clients in their own homes. The focus is on serving healthy, fresh foods, and personal chefs often have experience with dietary restrictions, such as food allergies or gluten-free diets. The job of a personal chef can be quite varied, depending on the client's needs. Some clients may want a chef to come in and completely redo their kitchen, while others might want quick, easy meals that are delivered in an insulated carrier each day.
A Caterer is a person who is hired to provide food and beverages at a public or private event. They are responsible for vendor set-up, inventory, and equipment management, as well as cooking, presentation, and service of the food at the event. They are also responsible for hiring and training any outside help, such as food runners, bartenders, and wait staff. A caterer may work with an event planner or directly with the client.
Food Service or Restaurant Manager oversee all aspects of a foodservice operation. They are responsible for hiring staff, maintaining inventory and cookware, and setting budgets. They often negotiate contracts with vendors and suppliers to get the best prices and terms. They also train and develop their staff to ensure they are meeting company goals and exceeding customer expectations. The responsibilities of a manager may differ from one company to another, but they all have the same goal, to keep the business successful.
How Do I Start to Become a Chef?
Becoming a chef requires hard work and dedication, but unlike other careers like a doctor or lawyer, where laws and regulations are well-defined, there is no specific formula that you must follow to earn the title of "chef." Every chef's journey looks a little different. Technical skills, professional skills, business skills.
There are 5 main steps to start following your dream of becoming a chef:
Find a Job and Get Work Experience
Specialized Classes and Courses
Pursue a Degree or Diploma from an Accredited School
Train and Practice
Get Ongoing Industry Certifications
Work Your Way Up in the Kitchen Hierarchy
Johnson & Wales University
Culinary Institute of America
Institute of Culinary Education
Culinary Institute of America
Le Cordon Bleu
- Attention to Detail
- Business Sense
- Culinary Expertise
- Communication Skills
- Fast-Paced Decision Making
- Willingness to Learn
- Ability to Skilfully Multitask
- Time Management
- Leadership Skills
Sign up for a volunteer position, search for entry-level jobs, or reach out to companies to see if they offer any internship opportunities. You can also consider working a part-time job if you’re in school. Getting hands-on experience and meeting new people will help you decide if a particular career path is right for you.
When you are at home, you don't have to stop learning. The Internet is filled with websites offering online cooking courses. Many of these sites have beginner-level courses that teach the basics of cooking all the way to professional-level instruction. These online courses and cookbooks help to expand your knowledge and stay current in the industry. There are also many hands-on activities that you can do to stay creative and productive when at home.
Access to these special classes and courses. From knife skills to healthy cooking and everything in between, you can find something that interests you. You'll meet other passionate home cooks and culinary enthusiasts and receive valuable information from our renowned instructors. You can also find professional certification in everything from baking and pastry to hospitality and wine.
Choosing an accredited college or university is one of the best ways to make sure you receive a high-quality education. Accreditation is a process that evaluates schools based on their standards and policies, as well as their students' experiences to make sure you get the best possible education for your money.
Practice makes perfect, so try to experiment and push yourself to try new things. The best way to become a go-to expert in your field is to keep learning and growing your knowledge base. By staying up to date with the latest trends and tips, you can become a trusted source of advice for colleagues, customers, and friends.
One of the best ways to stay on top of the latest trends is to get industry certifications. Ongoing industry certifications and training are vital for keeping your skills up to date. The best way to stay competitive in any industry is to stay on top of the latest trends and advancements. By keeping your skills fresh and up to date, you can grow in your role and take on more responsibilities.
Start by doing the easiest tasks first, and ask your supervisor if there's anything you can do to improve. Ask your co-workers for advice, and be open to constructive criticism. Ask your boss if there are any courses you can take to improve your skills. The more experience you have in the industry, the better your chances of getting a promotion. If you're interested in working your way up in the kitchen hierarchy, set your sights on becoming an apprentice. Apprentice positions are often entry-level, but they are a great way to get your foot in the door and start learning the ropes. You may be assigned to a specific task such as dishwashing, but you will also have the opportunity to learn how to do other things, such as how to cut meat and fish, or how to make stocks and sauces.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Be a Chef?
A culinary degree can be an important requirement in some kitchens, but you don’t have to attend a university to become a chef. You can enroll in a culinary program and earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. You even take online courses to earn these degrees. A culinary degree will also give you the necessary hands-on training that you'll need to be a successful chef.
Most culinary schools also require you to have a high school diploma or a GED, and most programs last about two years. During your time in school, you can expect to take courses in culinary fundamentals, nutrition, and hospitality. You'll also likely have to take a certification exam, such as the Certification Examination of Professional Cooks, to become a certified chef.
List of Culinary Schools and Costs
Culinary schools are usually private institutions that offer both degree and non-degree programs. There are a number of different majors to choose from, such as culinary arts, hospitality, and pastry arts. Depending on which school you choose, tuition can range from less than $10,000 per year to more than $20,000 per year. Some schools offer financial aid and scholarships, and some have deferral options. Some culinary schools have a tuition waiver for students who commit to working in a school-approved culinary job for a certain amount of time after graduation. Other culinary schools offer grants and low-interest loans. Apply for financial aid early, and be sure to include detailed cost estimates for your desired culinary program, including books, living expenses, and other expenses.
Here is a list of some of the most popular culinary schools in the nation:
Cost to Attend - $54,312-$108,624
Located in Rhode Island, they offer undergraduates the option of a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor of science degree. At the associate degree level, students can select either culinary arts or baking & pastry arts, while the bachelor's degree offers five different programs.
Cost to Attend - $53,772-$89,667
Among its culinary offerings, Chicago's Kendall College offers an associate of applied science in culinary arts degree that spans six quarters, a program that includes general education courses. Kendall also offers a bachelor's degree in culinary arts, which is a traditional four-year program.
Cost to Attend - $52,920-$105,840
The Culinary Institute of America offers both an associate degree in culinary arts and bachelor's degree programs. A student must complete the associate degree before continuing onto a bachelor's degree program. This 21-month course is divided into four semesters. There's also an 18-week externship and students work in each school's own restaurant at the end of sophomore year.
Cost to Attend - $34,914-$75,147
One of the first of it’s kind, the Drexel University Culinary Arts and Sciences programs combine the aspects of culinary arts, food science, business and hospitality management in a multi-year prorgram. Offering 2 year associates and 4 year bachelors programs, Drexel gives you all the tools to succeed in any aspect of the culinary industry. Both programs also offer a 6 month co-op program where you can gain hands on experience with industry professionals.
Cost to Attend - $29,500-$34,700
The Institute of Culinary Education's School of Culinary Arts offers a variety of schedules for its 650-hour curriculum. There are no more than 16 students per class and the schedule options range from six months to 14 months. Externships count for 210 of those 650-course hours.
Cost to Attend - $29,000-$35,000
Since its founding in 1946, the Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. With campuses located in New York, California, Texas and even Sinapore, offering both bachelors and masters courses in every aspect of the culinary arts. They even offer certificate programs for those wanting to continue their education. The programs range from a few months to couple years depending on how many credits your desired degree program requires.
Cost to Attend - $19,200-$39,200
Le Cordon Bleus offers slightly different courses from its neighbor to the north. Rather than a certificate in culinary arts, they offer a diploma in culinary arts and an associate degree in culinary arts. The diploma in culinary arts spans about 15 months. Meanwhile, the culinary arts associate degree is a 21-month program.
These are just come culinary institutions around the country. There are many more, and many local colleges offer some sort of culinary program.
How Long Does it Take to Go to Culinary School?
Most culinary schools have a required curriculum for students to follow, and each student must complete a certain number of hours of hands-on work in a commercial kitchen. Students must also complete an externship, which could last anywhere from a month to a year.
Normally, most culinary institutes are 2-year programs, measured with accredited hours and internships. You will be looking at at least 600 hours of in-class instruction and a multi-month externship at a restaurant where you apply what has been learned in a professional setting.
Is Being A Chef a Good Career?
Being a chef is a great career choice for those who enjoy working in the food industry and have a passion for food and cooking. A chef's job duties can vary greatly depending on the type of establishment they work in. Chefs may work in a variety of different settings, from upscale restaurants to schools or hospitals, and their responsibilities will also reflect the setting. In all cases, though, a chef’s main responsibility is to ensure high-quality food is served to guests or patients.
If you love to cook and want a job where you can be your own boss, consider becoming a chef. You may need to attend culinary school, and it may take several years to become a head chef in a restaurant. You may need to have previous experience as a cook in a restaurant or a culinary school degree to get hired as a cook. Or you could always start your own food truck or restaurant and gain hands-on experience.
What Does a Chef Need to Know?
They know how to do every job — because they probably have, at some point in their career. They know the menu backward and forwards since they probably created the recipes. This means they understand flavor profiles, balance, food pairing, and plating. They must know how to price and plan a menu for profitability, how to make a schedule that doesn’t leave the kitchen over or understaffed, and they need to know all the food safety guidelines and local health codes.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Chef?
Since there’s no singular approach to a culinary career, every path to the role is different, a chef’s path can me a multitude of options. There’s no final exam, no set number of work hours, and no education that all chefs must-have. Some cooks earn the title of a chef very quickly. For others, it takes more time. Chefs must have a combination of education (either through school or learning “on the job”), experience, and rank to earn the title.
A chef is a supervisor, someone who not only cooks, but may be responsible for creating recipes, managing schedules, pricing the menu, and managing costs. So simply graduating from culinary school is not enough.
What Skills Should A Chef Have?
A chef is responsible for overseeing the entire kitchen staff, from hiring, training and assigning tasks, as well as the quality of the food and service. To be successful in this role, a chef should be creative, detail-oriented, and organized. A chef must have excellent communication skills and the ability to work well under pressure. As with most culinary jobs, physical stamina is a must, as is a genuine enthusiasm for cooking.
Some skills are: