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What Type of Salary Should I Expect as a Chef?

Career News January 1, 2015

Choosing a career is a tough decision. Students have to find something they’re not only passionate about, but something that also has the potential to pay a decent salary. One career that requires a high level of passion and commitment is that of a professional chef. However, choosing to become a chef does not guarantee riches or a lavish lifestyle.

Top and Bottom of the Salary Ladder

Chefs work long, hard hours for a number of years before reaching a point in their career where their salary is above average. According to, recent culinary school graduates just starting out in their culinary career only average around $30,000 per year. On the other end of the salary spectrum, Executive Chefs can make over $100,000 per year depending on where they work.

The Making of an Executive Chef

The salary of a chef is dependent on several factors, including experience, education, specialty, location, and an ability to innovatively mix ingredients. Chefs are expected to work ridiculous hours for very little pay over the course of their career in order to gain the level of experience needed to successfully run a kitchen and cook amazing dishes.

Considering Culinary Schools

The road to becoming a successful Executive Chef can take a couple of different paths. Young chef hopefuls can pay a lot of money to attend culinary school and attain a culinary arts degree or simply find a job in a restaurant or kitchen and work their way up from the bottom.

The debate is on as to which path is the best, but the honest answer to the question is that each chef must find his or her own way. What works for one chef may not be the answer for the next.

Work Environment

Once a student has decided to live with the low starting salary of a chef, the next thing that must be considered is the type of work environment to be expected over the course of that career. Chefs have to be tough. Kitchen work is hard, physical work with intense heat and any number of potential accidents waiting to happen.

Chefs have to be forever vigilant with safety and health practices for themselves as well as the customers they serve. Intelligence, attention to detail, and the physical ability to stand on hard concrete floors are all necessary characteristics. The increased salary of a chef as he or she moves up the ladder comes with increased responsibility.


Executive Chefs are responsible for ensuring sanitary conditions for both the food being prepared and the equipment and persons preparing it. The consequences of failure to take this responsibility seriously can be catastrophic. No one enjoys food sickness, and knowing a person became sick from a kitchen’s prepared food offering is an Executive Chef’s worst nightmare. For that reason, an Executive Chef must constantly be aware of all kitchen staff’s movements and habits. They are the watchdogs of the culinary world.

That is why the salary of a chef with that kind of responsibility is quite a bit higher than a chef only responsible for simple preparation and repetitive cooking. Both require attention to detail and sanitary practices, but the lower level chef is only responsible for his or her own personal actions.

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