How to Become a Chef in 5 Practical Steps
Filed under: Culinary
March 19, 2018
So you enjoy cooking for your friends and family. You’re constantly experimenting with new recipes and flavors. Maybe you’ve worked in the food industry here and there or dabbled in catering for a small crowd. Lately, you’ve been thinking about committing to a career in the culinary industry.
Sound like you? If you’re serious about taking your culinary skills and creativity to the next level, below is our step-by-step guide for how to become a chef!
1. Consider career options and specializations.
Do you prefer making appetizers and entrees or baking desserts and pastries? Are you attracted to any specific cuisine? What type of restaurant would be your ideal workplace as a chef?
Don’t worry, you don’t need to know all the answers yet! They may even change as you build your expertise. Still, it’s important to be able to visualize what you’re working toward. Plus, this exercise can help guide your decision-making as you search for culinary schools and your first job in the field.
(Sidenote—Before you dig deeper into how to become a chef, make sure you understand what this career actually entails. Hint: it’s not only preparing food. Many chefs are involved in managing and training staff, planning recipes and menus, ordering food and kitchen supplies, and other restaurant management tasks.)
2. Go to culinary school.
Going to culinary school will be incredibly valuable in learning how to become a chef. The right culinary program can provide you a chance to study recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques and terminology from around the world. Through hands-on learning and faculty guidance, culinary school can also help you start to feel at home in a professional kitchen, build your palate, and gain valuable confidence working with knives and other industry-standard tools.
Diplomas and certificates tend to be the shortest culinary programs, followed by associate’s degree programs, which are typically around 2 years. At around 4 years in length, a bachelor’s degree offers the most in-depth culinary studies of these options and may also introduce you to the business and management skills involved in running a kitchen.
3. Start working in a restaurant kitchen.
Cooking in your home and cooking in a restaurant are completely different experiences. Of course, your first restaurant job will likely be a low-ranking one. However, the exposure you get is valuable and can help to solidify your career goals. You can also learn a lot working with and watching the professionals in a top restaurant, even if you initially have little to do with the food being served.
As for when you earn experience, the earlier, the better. Don’t wait until after culinary school to start working in a restaurant. Ideally, your culinary school will have its own restaurant where you can gain experience, but you could also work a few hours on the side if you have time. Plus, the more people you interact with—and impress—in the industry, the more connections you’ll have to help you to start or advance your career.
4. Work your way up in the field.
Culinary school is helpful for figuring out how to become a chef, but it won’t guarantee your success. After school, you’ll need to work hard and put in long hours, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be hired as a head chef right away. Instead, you’ll need to gain more experience and work your way up, learning from other chefs as you go.
To impress your superiors and continue advancing toward a management position, don’t shy away from taking on restaurant management tasks. You should also work at a variety of types of restaurants, so that you continue to grow your skills across diverse cuisines and techniques. In your off time, explore new restaurants and cultures, searching for chefs and dishes that will inspire your culinary creativity. Remember to never stop learning!
5. Pursue certification.*
Culinary certification isn’t required for becoming a chef, but it may offer you a competitive advantage on job applications. Certification can signify that you meet a particular standard of quality within the industry. The American Culinary Federation is the largest professional organization of chefs in North America and awards 16 types of certifications. Having multiple certifications may make you an even more attractive candidate in the culinary field.
Graduates of the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation accredited programs offered at The Art Institutes and other schools may be eligible to receive certification without completing a certification exam.**
Learn About Our Culinary Programs
The Art Institutes is a system of nonprofit schools offering Culinary, Media Arts, Fashion, and Design programs online and at campuses across the United States. Our Culinary programs include degrees, diplomas, and certificates in Baking & Pastry, Culinary Arts, Culinary Management, and Hospitality, Food, & Beverage Management. Explore our Culinary programs today to see which program will be right for helping you realize your career goals in the culinary field!
* The Art Institutes system of schools does not guarantee third-party certification/licensure. Outside agencies control the requirements for taking and passing certifications and are subject to change without notice to The Art Institutes system of schools.
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