A chef is a culinary worker who cooks and creates meals and dishes for a restaurant or similar food establishment. A chef may also assist with various managerial and administrative tasks involved with operating a restaurant. Many students enroll in culinary school with the position of chef as their career goal.
Various types of chef-related positions are available in both private and commercial sectors. In commercial restaurants and dining establishments, chefs are organized by function in a vertical hierarchy. Individuals interested in a culinary career may opt to focus on a variety of chef positions, including the role of executive chef, sous chef or line chef. Individuals interested in the private culinary sector may choose to become a personal chef who cooks and caters to a small, specialized customer base.
The functions of a chef varies by his position within the kitchen, and the relation of his role with the roles of the other chefs. Executive chefs oversee the entire culinary operations of a restaurant or food service establishment and are often in charge of creating the menu and theme of the establishment. The sous chef serves as the administrative assistant, ensuring that the head chef's wishes are carried out. She may also be in charge of the hiring and firing of lower chefs, as well as the maintenance of their work schedules. Line chefs have specialized duties, such as baking or prepping food ingredients. These duties are assigned by the executive or sous chef.
Individuals interested in a culinary career are often required to go through technical training at a culinary institute or a university that offers training in the industry. The length of training time required varies. Individuals interested in a starting level career may go through a nine- to 12-month training program and graduate with a certificate in culinary arts. Individuals who aspire for executive or sous chef positions may benefit from more exhaustive training, which typically takes 24 to 48 months and includes internship experience. Once an individual has a position in a kitchen, he is often required to put in a minimum of six months in the establishment before being able to apply for a higher position in the culinary hierarchy.
The culinary industry can be a lucrative career goal for new graduates and individuals looking to advance their careers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average starting wage of a chef ranges from $18 to $20 USD per hour. Individuals starting in a sous chef or executive chef position are typically paid on an annual salary basis and may vary from $40,000 to $70,000. Individuals who ply the culinary trade may also benefit from the ability to practice the skills they learned in school, as well as exercise their love for creative cooking in a financially-rewarding manner.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the job outlook for those wanting to enter the culinary field is positive due to employee turnover and the growing number of establishments needing chefs. Outlook projections vary by the type of chef an individual wishes to be, though most culinary fields have an average to better-than-average outlook. Also, individuals who aspire to a upper-end culinary position must consider the time expectations involved. Executive chefs are typically expected to have graduated from a two- or four-year certification program with significant experience in the culinary arts. Such higher-end jobs also demand long work days, with weekends and holidays typically included due to the hospitality industry's tendency to be busy during these times.
"Occupational Outlook: Chefs, Cooks, and Food Preparation Workers." United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008.
"The Professional Chef." 8th ed. The Culinary Institute of America. New York: Wiley, 2006.
Ruhlman, MIchael. "The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America." 2nd ed. New York: Holt, 2009.
List of U.S. Culinary Schools
Culinary Institute of America