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Chef Career Guide

Are you a someone who loves their food, is creative and thrives of fast paced environments?

If the answer is yes, then have a look at this chef career guide.

While many people believe that chefs primarily cook food, the reality is chefs have already worked their way up out of the cooking position and now do much more than preparing food. Chefs craft recipes and dishes, oversee staff, and manage the cooking that goes on in the kitchen.

To become a chef, you will typically have attended a community college, technical school, culinary art schools or a 4-year college. Apprenticeship programs are also available.

 

For many work is a something you do to earn money, for Chefs work is their passion. If you love to cook and are passionate about food then why not develop your interest in cooking and turn it into your hospitality careers.

TMS Talent

Chef Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Chef Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Chef field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33849 Executive Chef Female 31 $80,000 Jonesboro, GA 01/01/2010
33543 Chef Female 26 $32,000 Brandon, FL 01/01/2010
33326 Bakery Manager/Cake Decorator Female 29 $42,000 Portland, NY 01/01/2010
33330 Chef Male 32 $51,000 woodlyn, PA 01/01/2010
33235 Asst. Chef/Manager Female 41 $12,000 Bella vista, AR 01/01/2010

Overview

What a chef does

A chef is someone who oversees kitchen operations. While many people believe that chefs primarily cook food, the reality is chefs have already worked their way up out of the cooking position and now do much more than preparing food. Chefs craft recipes, create dishes, oversee staff, and manage the cooking that goes on in the kitchen. Chefs may work in fancy five-star restaurants or they may open their own restaurants. Some famous celebrity chefs make a name for themselves, drawing crowds and being featured on reality shows, while other chefs work quietly in the kitchen of establishments owned by others. Regardless of whether a chef is famous or not, their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Having a deep understanding of how to be effective at creating dishes and cooking food that clients enjoy
  • Carrying out some intricate prep work and food preparation (however, chefs typically have sous chefs and people under them who do most of the cooking activity)
  • Informing wait staff of specials
  • Delegating tasks to kitchen staff
  • Studying recipes and ensuring that the correct ingredients are ordered
  • Ensuring compliance with health and safety regulation

Why they are needed

Revenue in the food and beverages industry is projected to reach $236,529m in 2020. Chefs, clearly, play a fundamental role in this industry by designing and cooking the food that allows the industry to thrive. Without dedicated chefs, there would be no ‘food’ in the food and beverages industry.

Pros and cons of a career as a chef:

Pros:

  • There is the potential to make good money when working in a fancy or busy restaurant, or if you are working for yourself
  • It is a relatively easy career to enter
  • There is a huge demand for skilled chefs, meaning plenty of job opportunities
  • Jobs are available worldwide
  • You get to express your creativity
  • High level/high quality chefs are highly regarded and respected
  • A career as a chef offers lots of variety (e.g., you could work in cafe, at a high end restaurant, in a cafe, for a university)

Cons:

  • It is a physically demanding job that requires you to be on your feet and working in uncomfortable conditions (e.g., a hot kitchen)
  • The pay can be uncertain
  • The hours can be long and unpredictable
  • Chefs will have to work weekends, evenings, and holidays
  • It can be a stressful and high pressured job, especially when restaurants/bars are busy

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of chefs is projected to grow 6% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This employment growth is expected because the growing population, and income growth, is expected to create a greater demand for high-quality dishes. Thus, there will be an increased demand for chefs. Similarly, there is more of a demand for healthier meals made from scratch in restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores and online stores. Chefs will be required to ensure these dishes are high quality and to oversee the food preparation process.

Career paths

The real key to becoming a chef is to gain experience in the profession. Often, chefs will start working in the hospitality industry (as a pot washer, food runner etc). They may then gather experience as a line cook, where they will learn cooking skills from the chef who manages them. In general, chefs will spend many years working in kitchens before having enough experience to be a successful chef.

To be a chef, you don’t need any postsecondary education. However, many chefs attend community colleges, technical schools, culinary art schools or 4-year colleges to complete programs related to cheffing. Programs tend to include menu planning, food sanitation procedures and purchasing methods.

Some chefs, who do not attend a postsecondary institution, can receive on the job training, where they work under an experienced chef. Chefs may also learn through apprenticeship programs, that are sponsored by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, or trade unions. Apprenticeship programs generally last 2 years and combine instruction and on-the-job training. Apprentices typically receive about 2,000 hours of both instruction and paid on-the-job training per year. Apprentices spend the rest of their training learning practical skills in a commercial kitchen under a chef’s supervision.

The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs at postsecondary schools and sponsors apprenticeships around the country. To get an apprenticeship, you must be over the age of 17 and have a high school diploma or equivalent.

After completing all training and gathering experience, chefs may choose to get certified as this can lead to advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs. The minimum work experience required  for certification can range from about 6 months to 5 years, depending on the level of certification.

Example Job Titles for Chef

Below is a list of common job titles in the Chef field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annal salary wage for chefs in the United States was $51,530. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,370 per annum and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,990 per annum. The highest paying industry is traveler accommodation, where the median annual wage is $58,250.

A chefs income can vary widely, depending upon whether they have their own restaurant or works for others, as well as the restaurant quality and type.

Autonomy and Flexibility

In general, a chef should have relatively high autonomy. They are normally in charge of most kitchen decisions, and have control over menus and presentation. In terms of flexibility, kitchens are highly stressful places and chefs will have little flexibility to plan their days. The hours also chose chefs, meaning they don’t normally have flexibility over the hours they work.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be an chef based on average annual salary and number of jobs available, were:

  1. Delaware, where the average annual salary was $49,914
  2. Pennsylvania, where the average annual salary was $49,714
  3. District of Columbia, where the average annual salary was $52,709
  4. Wisconsin, where the average annual salary was $47,755
  5. Connecticut, where the average annual salary was $48,267

The worst states, according to Zippia, were South Dakota, South Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio and Nebraska.

Work environment

The largest employers of chefs in the United States were restaurants, which employed 45% of all chefs. Special food services employed 10%, 10% were self-employed, 10% were employed by traveler accommodation and 6% were employed by the amusement, gambling and recreation industry.

Chefs can work in restaurants, private households, hotels and other food service establishments. These kitchens tend to be fast-paced environments, that are kept clean and sanitary at all times.

Chefs tend to stand up for most of the day. There is a risk of injury, as chefs work with hot ovens, sharp knives and the floors may be slippy (from spillages or cleaning).

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Chef careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Chef career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Chef.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There has been no detailed exploration as to what personality traits will make a successful chef. However, it is very possible that successful chefs might be ENTJ personality types. ENTJ’s, otherwise known as ‘the commander’, are motivated and assertive. They take charge, and pave ways for others (e.g., line cooks or sous chefs) to follow. They are ambitious and decisive, which is ideal for planning high quality menus. They can spot inefficiency and they work tirelessly to achieve their goals and high standards. All of these qualities are crucial for being successful as a chef, who need to lead a team of kitchen staff and ensure that the food produced is done so to the highest standard.

Accomplishment and mastery

Chefs spend a long time learning and perfecting their skills. Therefore, when they reach the level of chef, they will feel accomplished. Chefs will continue, throughout their career, to perfect and develop their skills, providing a sense of mastery. What is more, is that when chefs find amazing recipes and get amazing feedback on their food, they will feel accomplished and fulfilled.

Meaning and contribution

The work of a chef has huge meaning and contribution to the food and beverage industry. Without them, the industry would not be able to thrive, as it does so well. However, the work of a chef is not greatly meaningful to the lives of those who are struggling. Therefore, if you are truly passionate about helping those in need, and want a career that does this, you may find the work completely lacks meaning and contribution.

Life fit

Many chefs work full time, including early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Typically, chefs work more than 40 hours a week. This means it can provide a difficult life fit, especially for those who have a family.

Who will thrive in this career?

In order to thrive, and not just survive, as a chef you must be creative. This, along with the ability to think outside the box, will allow you to create unique, interesting and exciting menus. Chefs must also be able to pay attention to detail, as when creating food every ingredient needs to be checked and allergens and special requests need to be observed. The key to being a successful chef really is individuality, skill and quality assurance. Without this, you cannot thrive.

Chefs also need to be assertive in order to thrive. Kitchens are stressful places, where lots of people work. Chefs need to be able to lead others confidently and delegate tasks. Similarly, as kitchens can be notoriously stressful, chefs must be able to remain calm and collected under pressure. Finally, they must be respectful of others and be a good teacher, as chefs tend to have the responsibility of mentoring those below them.

Who will struggle in this career?

It goes without saying that those who are not passionate about food will struggle in this career. This is because chefs need to be able to understand what good food tastes like and enjoy the dishes they create.

Those who aren’t particularly hands on or practical may struggle as a chef. This is because the way to succeed in this career is by perfecting the skills required to produce exceptional food. Those who cannot think on their feet or remain calm in stressful situations may struggle as a chef, as it is a fast paced jobs where things often go wrong and need resolving. Finally, if you cannot work well as part of a team then you may struggle with the dynamic of a career as a chef.

Requirements

Skills and talents

As well as a genuine interest and passion for food, chefs will need skills and talents such as:

  • Willingness to learn, as becoming a chef is a hands-on learning experience and chefs will continually develop their skills and techniques
  •  Verbal communication skills, as chefs will need to communicate with other kitchen or front of house staff
  • Attention to detail, as chefs must pay attention to flavourings and techniques to ensure the dishes they produce are of the highest standard
  • Physical fitness, as chefs will have to be on their feet all day
  • Organization skills, as kitchens are busy and stressful and chefs need to keep their work environment tidy and clean
  • Multitasking, as chefs will have many different tasks to complete all at once (e.g., plating up food for three different tables, remembers the sides and/or special requests)

Education

To become a chef, you don’t need any postsecondary education. However, many chefs attend community colleges, technical schools, culinary art schools or 4-year colleges to complete programs related to cheffing. Programs tend to include menu planning, food sanitation procedures and purchasing methods.

Some chefs, who do not attend a postsecondary institution, can receive on the job training, where they work under an experienced chef. Chefs may also learn through apprenticeship programs, that are sponsored by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, or trade unions. Apprenticeship programs generally last 2 years and combine instruction and on-the-job training.

The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs at postsecondary schools and sponsors apprenticeships around the country. To get an apprenticeship, you must be over the age of 17 and have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Certifications

Chefs may choose to get certified as this can lead to advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs. The minimum work experience required  for certification can range from about 6 months to 5 years, depending on the level of certification.

How to Become

Summary

A career as a chef is a fast-paced, demanding and high pressure career that requires you to use creativity and imagination to produce excellent quality food that meets the customers needs. Over the coming years, the demand for chefs is expected to grow, offering lots of job opportunities.

Immediate action

If you want to become a chef, then we suggest getting work experience in the hospitality industry. Whether thats as a pot washer, waitress/waiter or food runner, the experience and knowledge is valuable!

Education and learning

To become a chef, you don’t need any postsecondary education. However, many chefs attend community colleges, technical schools, culinary art schools or 4-year colleges to complete programs related to cheffing. Programs tend to include menu planning, food sanitation procedures and purchasing methods. Apprenticeship programs are also available.

Skill development

Part of being a successful chef is enjoying the process. Chefs will spend the entirety of their career developing and advancing their skills and knowledge!

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Chef careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33849 Executive Chef Female 31 $80,000 Jonesboro, GA 01/01/2010
33543 Chef Female 26 $32,000 Brandon, FL 01/01/2010
33326 Bakery Manager/Cake Decorator Female 29 $42,000 Portland, NY 01/01/2010
33330 Chef Male 32 $51,000 woodlyn, PA 01/01/2010
33235 Asst. Chef/Manager Female 41 $12,000 Bella vista, AR 01/01/2010

Resources