How to Become a Chef
Chef Careers & Degrees

When you become a chef you will be entering a career that is challenging, and very satisfying.

Chefs prepare food and drinks for customers in a cafe, restaurant, or bar and they work in all different kinds of environments.

If you have a passion food, enjoy cooking, and love seeing someone satisfied with a meal you have prepared, then this is a perfect career for you.

Education Requirements to Become a Chef

If you decide to become a chef, your first step will be attending culinary school, or vocational school.

There are two year and four year programs offered, which will teach you everything you need to know to be a fantastic chef.

While you’re at school, or studying at college, it’s advisable to get a part-time job in the hospitality field.

You may be able to get a role as a kitchen hand or cleaner, if not look for a role as a waiter or waitress.

It’s a good way to learn about the industry and start making contacts within hospitality.

Once you have your education complete, you’ll need to get a job.

Even with a qualification, you will need to start at the bottom, this means an entry level role.

Most begin their career as a kitchen hand or prep cook.

With hard work and patience you’ll be preparing gourmet meals in no time.

Chef Job Description

A chef’s primary role is to prepare food, although there are many other tasks they are responsible for.

They need to make sure that food is served on time, is fresh, hot, and of course, tastes great.

They may need to supervise other staff in the kitchen, or on the floor.

A chef will also help prepare new menus, or help decide on the daily specials.

Most chefs will also source their own produce, as finding the best quality ingredients is essential to creating the best dishes.

Here are some of the tasks you might find yourself responsible for, working as a chef:

  • Preparing food for customers
  • Developing menus and specials
  • Sourcing produce
  • Communicating with customers and coworkers
  • Keeping a kitchen clean
  • Running an inventory of supplies
  • Ensuring the timely preparation of dishes
  • Ensuring hygiene standards are met

When you become a chef, you may be required to work long hours, as well as split shifts.

There is also the possibility of having to work nights, weekends, and holidays, often the busiest times for restaurants.

Keep in mind, you might not be able to get your dream job right away.

While you might have ambitions to run the best restaurant in town, keep in mind that it’s going to take some time and hard work before you get there.

Chef Salary and Career Path

Most chefs begin their career as a kitchen hand, helping with cleaning and preparing basic dishes.

With experience you will move on to more involved roles, such as sous chef, and eventually head chef.

You can also specialize in a certain area, for instance you may wish to become a pastry chef, or work only with a particular cuisine.

Some chefs move on to open up their own restaurants and cafes, others write cookbooks.

Some move onto managerial positions within the hospitality industry.

Once you are qualified as a chef, you will have the opportunity to work anywhere in the world.

This is a great skill to have if you would like to travel.

Starting out as a prep chef, or kitchen hand, you can expect to earn around $30,000 a year.

With a few years experience, your salary will increase to around $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

A head chef, also known as an executive chef will earn between $65,000 and $95,000 a year.

Those who are self-employed and own their own restaurants have the ability to earn much more.

Employment prospects for qualified chefs is strong.

While it can be difficult to get a start, once you are in with your first job, you will never find it too difficult to stay employed.

Working as a chef can call for long hours at awkward times, as well as a study and hard work to get to the top.

However, is food is your passion, you will find the reward will far outweigh the hard work.

Chefs enjoy a high amount of job satisfaction, a good income, and secure employment.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$56,310
$28K
$37K
$56K
$68K
$86K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$49,210
Alaska$52,840
Arizona$53,190
Arkansas$48,030
California$61,040
Colorado$50,890
Connecticut$60,810
Delaware$59,480
District of Columbia$65,870
Florida$53,030
Georgia$52,950
Hawaii$78,640
Idaho$40,850
Illinois$55,450
Indiana$51,130
Iowa$42,080
Kansas$42,730
Kentucky$48,620
Louisiana$55,160
Maine$54,720
Maryland$55,930
Massachusetts$63,190
Michigan$55,390
Minnesota$53,750
Mississippi$50,540
Missouri$54,530
Montana$52,340
Nebraska$44,270
Nevada$56,850
New Hampshire$57,300
New Jersey$76,060
New Mexico$50,560
New York$59,380
North Carolina$52,430
North Dakota$50,800
Ohio$46,100
Oklahoma$47,770
Oregon$51,130
Pennsylvania$59,040
Rhode Island$71,230
South Carolina$46,360
South Dakota$47,570
Tennessee$48,830
Texas$56,880
Utah$44,670
Vermont$46,040
Virginia$56,920
Washington$60,190
West Virginia$57,420
Wisconsin$44,530
Wyoming$61,120
Guam$34,790
Puerto Rico$35,170
Virgin Islands$46,260

The top earning state in the field is Hawaii, where the average salary is $78,640.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Hawaii - $78,640
New Jersey - $76,060
Rhode Island - $71,230
District of Columbia - $65,870
Massachusetts - $63,190
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Chefs and Head Cooks, OCC Code 35-1011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is a chef?

Chefs are professional cooks who have the responsibility of overseeing food preparation at restaurants and hotels.

A chef is trained in the art and technique of food preparation but may also be responsible for creating the menu.

In most restaurants and hotels, chefs give directions to kitchen staff and supervise meal preparation, garnishing and presentation.

Some chefs are specialists in a certain type of cuisine: Mediterranean, Asian, American, etc.

Others specialize in a certain type of food, such as pastries, desserts, meats, fish, cold dishes or vegetables.

Chefs need a variety of skills, including dexterity, creativity, communication skills, business skills, leadership skills and a keen sense of taste and smell.

Most chefs work full time and often begin work very early in the morning.

They often work more than 40 hours a week.

QuestionHow much does a chef make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for chefs was $48,460 in May of 2018.

The salary depends on many factors, including the restaurant or hotel where the chef works and his or her level of experience.

Chefs employed by upscale restaurants and those who work in metropolitan areas are usually better paid than the other chefs.

The top 10 percent earned more than $81,150 a year in May of 2018, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,320.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a chef?

Many chefs learn through work experience but most of them also receive training at a community college, trade school, culinary arts school, or a four-year college.

Some also participate in mentorship programs, where they work under the supervision of an experienced chef.

Tuition costs vary depending on the school you choose.

On average, culinary schools cost around $30,000 per year but some top schools cost more than $40,000 a year.

QuestionWhat is the demand for chefs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for chefs and head cooks is expected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Forecasters say this growth is caused by income growth which leads to greater demand for quality dishes.

Job openings will also result from the need to replace those who leave the occupation.

However, if you want to get a job at an upscale restaurant or hotel, you should expect strong competition.

Chefs who have several years of experience have better job opportunities.

Having a degree from a top culinary school will also give you a great advantage over the competition.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a chef?

In order to become a chef, you may need a few years of experience working as a cook.

Many chefs also hold a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Most cooking schools require candidates to be over 17 years of age and to hold a high school diploma or equivalent.

Certification is not required but it may increase your employability.

In order to get certified, you will need a minimum work experience of 6 months to 5 years, depending on the level of certification you are seeking.

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