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How to Become a Chef: Career Roadmap and Education Requirements

Majors Overview January 23, 2013

The highly skilled professional in a kitchen is known as a chef. In the course of their duties, chefs order food supplies, train the cooking staff, manage the cooking staff, and prepare food. A chef’s job can be tremendously stressful with every meal being virtually an evaluation of his/her skills. For the same reason, the work of a chef is rewarding. Much like artists, chefs acquire reputations for their creativity, and for the high-quality meals they create. While there is no formal training required to become a chef, many aspiring chefs take their first career step by enrolling into a culinary arts program. Still others choose to start working as chefs as soon as they have earned their high school diplomas. In this article, we will look at the training and education requirements need to be fulfilled by aspiring chefs who seek to follow a successful career path.

Chef Requirements

While holding a high school diploma or equivalent qualification is sufficient for a prospective chef to embark on his/her career, a few chefs complete undergraduate or graduate degrees in culinary arts or other concentration areas that have equivalent coursework. Certification is not mandatory; a few chefs seek certification issued by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) in a variety of areas. Experience of one to five years in the profession will improve chefs’ career prospects; they are required to have time-management, leadership and business skills alongside creativity and manual dexterity. Computer skills will also help a chef in their career, especially the ability to use different software programs such as ReServe Interactive Table Management Software, Barrington Software CookenPro Commercial, IPro Restaurant Inventory and Nutritionist Pro, among others. The technical skills needed include the ability to use kitchen tools such as food thermometers, ranges, graters, ranges and cutlery. Additionally, a chef is expected to bring a refined sense of smell and taste to the table, especially when they blend flavors and create meals for diners (sources: O Net OnLine; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed by anyone planning a career in this field.

Stage One: Completing an Education Program

Training may be received by chefs from culinary institutes, colleges, or vocational schools. Aspiring restaurant owners or prospective executive chefs among them can expect to garner management and business skills from some culinary arts courses. Coursework includes specialty cuisine, regional cuisine, pastry preparation, butchery, culinary techniques and nutrition among other subject areas. Undergraduate degree and certificate courses are often offered in the field. Students would benefit by participating in an internship or cooperative education program offered in some programs. These programs allow students to learn in a real-life setting through a classroom. These programs will not only improve students’ resumes, but also enhance their confidence while at work.

Stage Two: Gaining Work Experience

Work experience can be gained through entry level jobs in the culinary field, as line cooks or kitchen assistants. Several years of experience will entitle them to a promotion as a chef. An aspiring chef can also choose to join an apprenticeship program such as the ones offered by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). These programs take two to three years to complete and give students the opportunity to work under the supervision of experienced chefs.

Step 3: Certification

Chef certification is not compulsory either at federal or state level, but those who hold certification have a competitive advantage with respect to job offers. Several levels of chef certifications are offered by the ACF. These include specialization certifications for personal and pastry chefs. Certification is designation-driven and generally calls for a combination of experience and education. Students are also required to take a practical and written examination. Certified chefs are required to get re-certified every five years. Earning multiple certificates can increase a chef’s career by serving as an advertisement of their versatility.

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