This second article in our two-part series on culinary career path options covers the education and career paths of a chef. Being a chef is not easy; it requires extensive training, hard work, and long hours, but the rewards can be significant for someone with a passion for cooking. To begin, let’s look at the education options for a person who wants to become a chef.
There are two traditional paths for becoming a chef: formal training and apprenticeships.
Formal training is completed through schools that offer a culinary degree program, which can be either an Associate’s Degree, which typically takes about 2 years going full-time, or a Bachelor’s Degree, which typically takes four years going full-time. The coursework in these programs can include all of the following areas of study:
- Culinary skills, which includes food preparation and cooking techniques
- Sanitation and safety
- Menu and restaurant design
- Specialized cooking, which includes everything from regional cooking to baking and pastry
- Beverages, which includes wine, beer, and spirits
- Event planning
- Management, which includes everything from financial planning to marketing
- Formal internships
Apprenticeships can be both formal and informal. Formal apprenticeships are set-up through some culinary schools and organizations, with the bulk of the learning being done while working under an experienced chef and a lesser amount done in the classroom, resulting in certification upon completion of the apprenticeship.
Informal apprenticeships are arranged between the professional chef and the student, with no classroom learning and no certification. If you intend to work for someone else at the completion of the apprenticeship, be aware that it can be more difficult to get hired without the more established training of a culinary degree or formal apprenticeship.
Once training is complete, there are a variety of positions that a chef can occupy. In a traditional restaurant kitchen, they include:
- Executive or head chef – the person in charge of the kitchen, who is responsible for everything from the food that leaves the kitchen to menu planning to managerial duties like hiring kitchen staff and purchasing inventory.
- Sous chef – the executive chef’s second in command, who both acts as the executive chef’s assistant and stands in for the executive chef when he or she is not working.
- Line or station chef – a person who works in one particular area of the kitchen, such as the pantry chef, vegetable chef, grill or roast chef, fish chef, or sauté chef.
Most people who have recently completed their culinary training start out working below one of the line chefs and work their way up to become line chefs, then sous chefs, and finally executive chefs.
Of course, those trained as chefs have many options outside of a traditional restaurant kitchen, including:
- Research chef – a person who tests new products, equipment, and recipes for food manufacturers, restaurant chains, and anyone else who makes food products.
- School chef – someone who teaches in one of the formal programs discussed in the education section.
- Recreational cooking class chef – a person who teaches home cooks in courses that can range from one day sessions to weeks-long courses.
There are many other choices beyond these; cruise ships employ chefs, as do spas, resorts, and cross-country trains. Magazines also hire chefs to test and create recipes and to review products. Ultimately, someone with training as a chef has many different options which are only limited by the creativity, passion, and interest of that person.