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How to Become A Chef

A chef is a highly skilled cook who oversees the preparation of food in restaurant and hotels. Furthermore, they may delegate jobs to lower-level cooks, thereby managing the everyday workings of professional kitchens. Chefs select and check all food ingredients being used as well as their freshness and quality and they also keep a check on the equipment being used and maintain the cleanliness of their work area. They also have to come up with new and innovative food recipes and determine the size, quality and presentation of prepared meals. They may further hire and train new cooks, kitchen staff and teach junior cooks the art of cooking.

Chefs need to have an understanding of basic management skills and human resources management as many chefs own restaurants and businesses in the food industry. They need to know the techniques and processes involved in planting, growing and picking plants, vegetables, fruits and other such food items. They may further need to have a thorough understanding of quality control, distribution of goods and services and the costs involved in this business. What chefs ultimately need, however, is dedication and respect for their profession and an innate love for food.

How to Become a Chef?

In order to work towards becoming a chef, one must follow certain steps. It may take years of hard work, dedication and experience in the food industry before you can call yourself a chef.


Holding a high school diploma or GED certification is critical for creating foundation for your career pursuits. After high school, those interested in becoming chefs have a number of options available to them. They may complete an associate degree, post-secondary certificate or even a bachelor’s program. An increasing number of budding chefs are attending community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, and 4-year colleges as well as opting for online courses and degree programs. However, a degree alone will not ensure your success as a chef. This is why the courses in the culinary programs are focused around cooking skills acquired in the kitchen, practicing cooking methods, cooking different types of dishes, food sanitation, managing your work station, etc. These classes are meant to imitate the real world experiences that chefs face in restaurants.

Training and Experience

Aspiring chefs have the option of enrolling in apprenticeship programs offered by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions that have been authorized by the U.S. Department of Labor. These programs may usually be of two years and require 1000 hours of on-the-job training by skilled and professional chefs. The courses cover food safety and sanitation, knife-use, use of equipment and all practical skills required in a chef’s kitchen.

There are also many examples wherein chefs never specifically studied culinary arts yet went on to become world-famous chefs. What made them stand out was their cooking experience. Some chefs learn at home from their family members, while others apprentice at established restaurants. Some may even work as protégés for well-known chefs. Whatever the case may be, it is essential that prospective chefs get work experience in real life setting as it may prepare them for this challenging profession. Therefore, some spend years learning the trade.

Alice Waters, called the ‘mother of American food’ and arguably the most influential cook in the U.S. in the last fifty years, did her graduate study in French culture and then polished her culinary skills through sheer hard work and practice. Another world renowned cook, Paula Deen, was a struggling mother of two who almost went broke before starting her culinary career. Mario Batali joined a reputable college for cooking and went on to become the owner of several award-winning restaurants all over the world.

What are some of the skills a chef needs?

All good chefs exhibit certain skills that are essential for being successful in the trade. Some of them include:

Management skills

A chef’s kitchen is the center of all culinary activities in any given restaurant or hotel. Managing them effectively therefore takes care and attention to detail. Chefs also need to balance efficiency with quality and food presentation.


Chefs are typically expected to create signature dishes. Replicating popular cuisine can also be a great challenge, but what truly set great chefs apart are their own innovative ideas for various courses. This will require you to thin outside the box.

Food Aesthetics

Fine dining is not all about the taste and flavor of food; what keeps customers coming back again and again is how uniquely it is served, the presentation, aroma and condiments. Chefs therefore need to be aware of the impressions that their dishes will have on their diners. Being in-tune with your senses will help in creating a memorable dish.

Leadership and Communication

Being a chef thus demands effective communication skills leading from example. A chef is the head of the kitchen staff and thus is responsible for maintaining the quality of dishes going out of his kitchen. During peak times when a large volume of orders need to be catered to, it can become quite challenging to delegate jobs and communicate clearly. Thus it will take a chef with strong communication and leadership skills to motivate the workers.

Licenses, certifications, and registrations

Even though it is not exactly a requirement to get certified as a chef, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers certification in numerous culinary proficiency programs. These include cooking professionals, baking and pastry professionals, culinary administrators, culinary educator etc. According to O*Net Online, chefs earned a median annual wage of $42,490 2013.

Fine cuisine is considered an art form in itself, and can in some cases draw the same kind of respect and admiration as that of a famous painting or sonnet. As important as they may be, it takes more than just an education and love for food to become a good chef. It takes years of training and practice as evidenced in the case of the world renowned host of master chef Gordon Ramsay, who once said, “If you want to become a great chef, you have to work with great chefs.” You also require innovation, finesse and an eye for detail while cooking. It was Julia Child, the first true celebrity chef of the world, who put it best when she said “This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun!”


States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:How to become a pastry chef?

A:If you are interested in becoming a pastry chef, you must develop the necessary skills and acquire formal education. After getting your high school diploma, you can enroll in a pastry chef school and pursue a training course or degree in this field. Pastry chef programs will help you gain in-depth knowledge about pastry-making and food science. You can also opt for a certification in this specialty from a professional certifying body such as the American Culinary Federation. (Source: American Culinary Federation)

Q:How to become a personal chef?

A:Although there is no exact academic route defined for becoming a personal chef, it is recommended that you have a college degree or some form of formal training in the field. After you complete you high school, you can opt for an associate, bachelor, or a diploma in culinary arts. You can initiate a career by completing a mentorship program and getting on-the-job experience. To improve your career prospects, a certification as a personal chef can be helpful. (Source: United States Personal Chef Association and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:Can you tell me about the education to become a chef?

A:The basic educational requirements in order to become a chef require you to acquire a high school diploma. You may also choose to acquire a relevant bachelor's or associate's degree. Specific education required to become a chef can be acquired by getting enrolled in an apprenticeship program that is approved by the U.S. labor department.

Q:Are there any minimum requirements to become a chef?

A:There are no minimum requirements to become a chef. However, it is recommended that you have completed your high diploma and a college program in this field. There are many different types of culinary and cooking courses you can choose from. These will prepare you for the career by equipping you with knowledge as well as practical skill. As the food industry has become more competitive, chefs must demonstrate professional skills and competency. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:How to become an executive chef?

A:An executive chef is usually the head cook who manages and runs a kitchen, and plans the menu. To qualify for a position as an executive chef, you must have the right skills and experience in the field. It is recommended that you have completed your college education in culinary arts or a relevant field. You must also have a few years of work experience as a chef. There is no exact route designed for this career. The American Culinary Federation is a leading organization that offers training and certification to executive chefs. (Source: The American Culinary Federation)

Q:How long does it take to become a chef?

A:It can take you 2-4 years after high school to become a chef. Upon completing high school, you can enroll in a two-year associate degree or a 4 year bachelor degree in culinary arts. A number of vocational schools and colleges are offering short training programs. These programs are geared towards equipping students with culinary skills and knowledge about food science. You can then seek work as an assistant chef or a food manager in the industry. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:How to become a professional chef?

A:To become a professional chef, it is recommended that you have a post-secondary degree or formal training in the field. You can enroll in a culinary arts program after completing high school. Culinary programs are designed to provide students with knowledge about important areas such as menu planning, kitchen work, food sanitation etc. After completing the program, you can seek work as a chef at entry-level. You can also opt for training through mentorship programs which will help polish your cooking skills. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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