What Does a Chef Do?
Chefs are responsible for designing and creating the meals that establish a restaurant’s reputation. That requires creativity, unflappability and a strong work ethic.
Chefs and head cooks oversee daily food preparation at restaurants, hotel dining establishments, cafes, private households and many other places where food is served. The type of restaurant where a chef or head cook works will determine the scope of duties, as smaller establishments often combine roles.
They need to be multitaskers who communicate well — even in a hot and noisy kitchen.
Chefs work demanding hours, including weekends and holidays. However, pride in the food they create makes these hours worthwhile.
For most chefs, the social aspect of the job is a bonus. In addition, this career offers many opportunities to learn, grow and even own your own business.
Keep reading to learn more about how training will help you reach your goals.
- Plan menus and ensure ingredient quality
- Create new recipes
- Keep up with culinary trends
- Assign prices to dishes and services
- Develop a network of suppliers and vendors
- Supervise and coordinate activities of chefs you manage
- Inspect supplies, equipment and work areas for cleanliness
- Manage administrative operations
- May order food and supplies
How To Become a Chef: FAQs
Chef requirements: What steps do I take to get this job?
First, earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
Postsecondary education isn’t required for all chef positions, but it can give you a leg up. Many chefs and head cooks receive training at community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools or even four-year colleges.
Culinary training programs include coursework and hands-on cooking. You’ll study cooking techniques, recipes, ingredients, food science, knife skills, food safety, plus how to do inventory and menu planning. More advanced programs may cover business and management skills.
An apprenticeship is another possible pathway to this career. Apprenticeships and internships with professional chefs are offered through culinary institutes and industry associations. Look for programs accredited by the American Culinary Federation.
Some chefs learn their skills exclusively on the job.
Regardless of your training path, expect to serve in a variety of kitchen or dining room roles, such as dishwasher, waiter or line cook. Get started in an entry-level role as soon as you can. Even low-level experience is invaluable because it will expose you to the professional kitchen environment.
It may take years to gain enough experience to be a head cook, but along the way, you’ll learn a variety of essential skills and establish a network of crucial contacts.
What other qualifications do I need to become a chef?
Depending on where you work, you may need a driver’s license to accommodate long or unusual working hours.
Some states require basic food handler certification, but other certifications aren’t typically required. However, more specific certifications may give you a competitive advantage, such as certified sous chef or certified pastry chef. The American Culinary Federation and the United States Chef Association offer many certifications.
How long does it take to become a chef?
A typical certificate program takes one year and an associate degree program will take two years. Culinary school programs can take from two to four years.
Experience is a crucial ingredient in becoming a chef. There is no set amount of time for this stage.
Continuing education is ongoing.
What are the different types of chefs? And why does the kitchen hierarchy matter?
You may have heard some of the different chef titles used at fancy restaurants. Those titles may not seem relevant for all chefs and all kitchens, but they are. Why? Because a similar kitchen hierarchy underlies the structure of almost all restaurants and food service establishments — even if they don’t use the same titles. The structure comes from what’s called the French brigade system, or the Brigade de Cuisine.
This system ensures that everything gets done. The functions matter more than the specific titles, except in fine restaurants.
The executive chef is the top of the food chain. This person may be mostly managerial and creative, planning the menu and establishing cooking and presentation standards.
Next comes the head chef. This role varies, depending on the size of the operation. This person may do many of the same duties as a kitchen manager, such as managing staff, controlling costs and working with other managers, such as a food service manager who supervises front-of-the-house operations. In some restaurants, a head chef may do hands-on cooking and mentoring of kitchen staff or they may play a more managerial role.
A sous chef may share some of the head chef’s management responsibilities but is more likely to be involved in day-to-day cooking operations.
Station chefs are at the next level. There can be many station chefs — or none. Again, it depends on the size of the kitchen. Each station chef is responsible for a specialty, such as grilling, frying, vegetables, pastries or sauces. The smaller the establishment, the more likely that station roles will be combined.
Is there a demand for chefs?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for chefs and head cooks are expected to grow 15% from 2021 to 2031. That growth will mean about 24,300 openings each year.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful chefs tend to share certain traits, including:
- A passion for good food
- Excellent leadership skills
- Good business skills
- Good dexterity
- Physical stamina to work on their feet for long stretches of time
- Strong work ethic