The qualifications for becoming a chef range as widely as the type of chef you want to become, from a cafeteria worker to a personal chef to the executive chef at a five-star restaurant. Education requirements range from on-the-job training to college degrees. Experience and business skills are also necessary, depending on the level of chef you want to be. Chefs can find work not only in restaurants, but in hotels, on cruise ships and in hospitals too.
Many chefs start their careers at the bottom of the culinary work ladder in low-skill positions in the kitchen and work their way up by gaining experience and furthering their education. Low-skill kitchen jobs usually only require on-the-job training. More advanced positions and higher level restaurants require more training such culinary institute apprenticeships, vocational schools or four-year college degrees. Executive chefs require the most training and experience. Most culinary education involves preparing food, but also provides training in other facets of the job such as menu planning, portion sizing and food selection.
Cooks need about eight to 15 years of experience in their specialty before they earn the title and certification of chef. Certifications can be obtained through schools and the American Culinary Federation. Executive chef is a title often reserved for those who have responsibilities in more than one kitchen. Most chefs specialize in a certain type of cuisine and spend most of their time training in that specialty. There are pastry chefs, who specialize in desserts; sauciers, who specialize in making sauces; and chefs who specialize in the cuisine of a certain region of the world, such as Italy or France.
Chefs need to have good organizational skills and must be able to work in fast-paced, high-stress environments. Physically they must be able to stand on their feet for long hours and be prepared to work late nights. They must also be able to work well with others in a team environment and be creative in how they prepare and present food. Cleanliness and hygiene are also important. Most states also require chefs and other kitchen works to have health certificates verifying that they do not have any communicable diseases.
Chefs need management skills. They need to be able to supervise the sous, or assistant, chef, along with line cooks, prep cooks and other employees in the restaurant’s kitchen, or the back of the house as it sometimes called. They also need to be able to balance their cooking and leadership capabilities with business skills, such as managing food costs by minimizing food waste and anticipating the amount of perishable food they’ll need.