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How to Become a Chef in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Pursuing a career out of passion and hobbies is everyone’s dream. In most cases, callings like this do not have an age limit. Therefore, you can practice for as long as you wish, hence personal satisfaction from your career life. One of the industries with a high number of these careers is the culinary field. This field has many career paths that you can choose and develop from your hobbies. One of the most popular and lucrative career paths in the hotel and food industry is being a professional chef.

Professional chefs are an essential part of the operations of the hotel and food industry. They are responsible for preparing food and recipes for customers in hotels, restaurants, or food processing companies. You can develop your cooking skills from an early age as a hobby to practice as a professional. Additionally, there is no age limit to cooking. As a professional chef, you can easily venture into private practice after retirement from employment.

There are many specializations involved in becoming a professional chef. There are countless recipes and food types worldwide, implying that what you learn as a chef in one country could be different from what chefs in other countries learn. For this reason, becoming a professional chef could involve more technicalities than most people imagine.

To better understand the process of becoming a chef as well as the pros and cons, we explore the following:

  1. Steps to becoming a chef
  2. Requirements to become a chef
  3. Culinary school and chef careers
  4. Chef career resources.

Steps to Becoming a Chef

Being a chef involves a lot of practical skills, talent, and passion. For this reason, it is hard to point out a specific career path to becoming a professional chef. However, to practice at a higher level in the industry, you need certain certifications. You can only be a certified chef after meeting a certain set of conditions by the professional bodies that govern operations in the hotel industry. The following steps are the most commonly followed by individuals in their career paths to becoming professional chefs.

  • Getting A High School Diploma

High school education is the foundation for all career paths. Becoming a chef requires understanding certain concepts that could be hard for individuals with education levels lower than high school. At high school, you can specialize in certain subjects that suit your career. Additionally, high school allows you to learn different languages essential for your career as a chef. For instance, if you are interested in Spanish or Asian foods, you might learn an Asian language or Spanish at the high school level, allowing you to understand the food culture and the significance of some recipes. Consequently, you can comfortably cater to your targeted customers for career excellence.

  • Go to Culinary School

Cooking is one of the many professions you can comfortably practice with an associate degree from trade schools. There are many culinary schools around the world where you can learn how to cook. While most of these schools cover general culinary skills, some are specialized in certain fields, such as culinary arts degree in pastry. Additionally, the curriculum in these schools varies depending on the nature of the foods and culture of targeted customers. Your choice of a culinary school should be governed by several factors, including resources available at the school. You need a lot of practical sessions to perfect your culinary skills. For this reason, going to an underequipped culinary school might make you a half-baked chef.

  • Obtain Practical Work Experience

Cooking is a hands-on process. To be a chef, you must have the practical skills to prepare certain foods depending on your specialization. One of the best ways to gain practical skills is by working under a professional cook. In most cases, culinary schools organize internships for students in renowned institutions. However, the internship programs might not be enough. You have to work under a chef to gain the necessary experience needed for certification. During this session, you get an opportunity to network with potential employers. Chefs prepare a wide variety of foods; this means that you have to work under one that specializes in the same foods as those you studied at the culinary school level.

  • Obtain The Needed Certification

Certification is the last step you go through before being a professional chef. It involves several professional tests that you must pass and requirements by certification bodies. There are more than ten certifications for professional chefs. While some are essential at the beginning 0of your career, you can obtain the rest as you advance. The areas with certification requirements within the U.S. include Cooking professionals, Personal cooking professionals, Baking and Pastry, Culinary administrators, and Culinary Educators. Culinary educators’ certification is needed at the peak of your career. This certification allows you to teach upcoming chefs.

Not every professional chef goes through all the above steps. In some cases, chefs skip the culinary school stage. Such chefs learn the craft through apprenticeship under seasoned chefs. However, such chefs find it hard operating in regions beyond where they are trained. Culinary schools equip chefs with additional skills such as networking. Lack of such skills makes it hard for apprentice chefs to secure employment. Working under seasoned chefs sharpens your skills as an apprentice chef. In most cases, the professional chef will let you do simple tasks such as chopping to perfect your knife skills. The certification bodies provide certification for chefs trained under apprenticeship as well.

There are many factors to consider before pursuing a career as a chef. These factors determine the success and comfort of your career life. Some of the essential considerations you should make include:

  • Financial considerations- One of the main reasons for pursuing a career is financial freedom. Financial considerations should be the center of decision-making when starting a career path to become a chef. It helps you tell the expected returns on investments. Knowing how much you might earn as a professional chef and comparing it to what you spend to gain the skills helps you determine whether the career is profitable or not.
  • Nature of food you want to specialize in- Various culinary schools focus on different forms of food. Therefore, the kind of food preparation you intend to specialize in should guide you when selecting a culinary school. For instance, if you wish to specialize in pastry, you should find schools that offer such skills. Additionally, the nature of food determines where you work as a professional chef. Certain foods are associated with specific nationalities; specializing in such foods implies that you can only operate in certain regions. However, due to cultural diversity in the U.S., some restaurants and hotels offer foods associated with these nationalities. For instance, you can work in Asian or Spanish restaurants in American cities.

There are many more factors to consider when entering this career path. However, success is not always guaranteed. It takes more than just education to be a successful chef. Your networking skills and determination allow you to make important connections for your career. Since chefs start as assistants in the kitchen, it requires patience and determination to rise to the ranks of a head cook. Networking allows you to explore and learn new recipes that set you apart from the rest as a professional chef.

Requirements to Become A Chef

Like other professions, becoming a chef has several requirements that you must fulfill. These requirements vary depending on the kind of food you major in and the region of operations. You can only register as a professional chef after fulfilling these requirements. The requirements might be stringent depending on the mode of practice you wish to engage in in the hospitality industry. For instance, personal professional chefs are subjected to more stringent requirements. Here are some common requirements you might have to fulfill to be recognized as a professional chef.

  • Educational Requirements

Education is a key requirement for certification by all professional bodies. However, the level of education attained varies depending on the career one pursues. Similarly, there are certain minimum academic requirements you must meet to be a certified chef. Most states require a minimum of a high school diploma to register as a beginner chef. The requirements become more stringent as you advance in the career. For instance, you might need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to be a chef educator. Some institutions require you to present certificates and other documents as proof of educational achievements. On the other hand, you might be subjected to tests by the professional certification body to determine how much you know.

  • Health Requirements

Food preparation is one of the critical processes in maintaining human health. For this reason, all chefs must be free of all forms of contagious infections. Food contamination by infectious microbes could be catastrophic. For this reason, chefs in most states undergo medical checkups after certain periods to allow employers to eliminate the risk of infection on customers through food contamination. As a professional chef, you must observe proper dieting to maintain good health. You might lose your practicing license if found practicing with a potentially infectious health condition. The duration between successive medical checkups depends on the institution you work in. Additionally, state regulations could determine how frequent chefs should submit information about their health condition.

  • Skill Requirements

Skill is the most important requirement for recognition as a professional chef. In cases where no proof of education is needed, you might have to display your skills before selected panels for evaluation. Culinary skills are not only essential for certification; they also determine how successful you become as a professional chef. If you learn through an apprenticeship, you might have to display your culinary skills for certification and employment. This mainly applies to chefs that major in technical fields such as pastry. Other skills needed for recognition include networking and communication skills. As a chef, you must communicate professionally to ensure communication between customers and to ensure you understand certain recipes. Excellent communication skills enhance cooperation between you and other practitioners in the culinary sector.

There are many more requirements that you must meet to be a recognized chef. However, the ones named above cut across most states and organizations within the U.S. The requirements depend on the level you wish to practice as a chef. Practicing at higher levels, such as an executive chef, requires more stringent qualifications. In addition to those named above, the following might be required:

  • Work Experience- Being an executive implies you perform administrative duties within your space. To achieve smooth operations, you must have adequate experience as a chef in the specialization you pursue. Work experience allows you to direct other cooks and find solutions to problems in the food preparation process. The presence of an experienced chef boosts the morale of junior chefs and increases the confidence of customers in restaurants and hotels.
  • Additional Languages- Various food recipes are associated with specific countries and regions. As an executive chef, mastering two languages places you at an advantage, especially when specializing in foreign recipes. Foreigners like visiting restaurants that prepare their native foods. As an executive chef, understanding a foreign language smoothens communication with the visiting customers.
  • Nutrition- Food plays an important role in the health of individuals. Executive chefs are required to know the nutritional contents of different foods and spices. Having this knowledge makes it easy to prepare food in the right potions. It also allows you to develop new recipes that don’t harm consumers.
  • Technology- Technological advancements affect all industries. Technology in food preparation has led to changes in cooking techniques over the past years. As an executive chef, you must understand the technology used in various processes within the kitchen. Having mastery of technology keeps you relevant in the industry; thus, you get retained over a long time.

There are many additional skills you need to be a head chef. The skills depend on the nature of food you will be preparing in your career. You must update your skill set throughout your career to remain relevant, allowing you to develop new recipes and appreciate those developed by other chefs in your career.

Culinary School and Chef Careers

As times change, the hospitality industry also changes. More career opportunities are being introduced in the industry for chefs and other practitioners as a result of technological advancements. The culinary school you enroll in determines your success as a professional chef. However, it is not a must that you go through the best schools to succeed in the hospitality industry. You can learn through apprenticeship from a professional cook and still be successful. There are many other food-related careers you can venture into. While some require culinary knowledge, other related careers seem unrelated to food preparation. Some of the common food-related careers include:

  • Nutrition

Nutrition involves the determination of the value of food items to the body. It is one of the main careers in the food and hospitality industry. As a nutritionist, your main task could be determining how much food or ingredients are needed for certain recipes. Nutritionists also help in the formulation of meal plans to achieve certain body goals and health levels. Nutritionists usually work hand in hand with chefs to prepare nutritious meals for individuals in various organizations. Other than working in a hotel, you can also work for schools and hospitals to prepare food for students and patients, respectively. With the knowledge and skills in nutrition, you can also work in companies that sell processed foods.

  • Food Technology

Due to technological advancements, the need for professionals to incorporate technology and food preparation increased. Many institutions of higher learning introduced technology courses related to food production and preparation. Food technology is one of the courses you can pursue and practice in the hospitality industry other than being a chef. With food technology knowledge, you will be tasked with designing, constructing, and operating machines used in food preparation. Such machines include ovens and automatic cookers. Other food technology careers include computer programming. This involves the creation of programs and algorithms used to operate automated equipment in food processing. You can study food technology at the undergraduate level or venture into it at a later stage of your career as a professional chef.

  • Public Relations

Public relations is not so related to food but plays a pivotal role in the hospitality industry. Professional practice requires you to master how to interact with customers and other chefs in your field. As a professional chef in high-end food places, you might have to converse with customers to prepare specific meals for them. This also applies if you intend to practice as a personal chef. How you communicate with potential clients determines whether they trust you with their food or not. At an advanced stage of your career, you might take up short courses on public relations. This prepares you for administrative positions such as executive chefs. Having public relations skills allows you to interact and create meaningful connections with clients and other practitioners in the hospitality industry. As a result, you might easily secure employment or explore different ideas within the field.

Your success as a professional chef, or a practitioner in any other food-related profession, depends on your expertise. Culinary training institutions offer different levels of training depending on the course you specialize in. While some institutions are well equipped in certain fields, others are renowned for specific chef training. Various factors determine the suitability of a culinary school. Considering these factors helps you choose the best institution to study in for a successful career. 

Here are some considerations you should make when signing up for a culinary program in any school.

  • Availability of The Program You Wish to Study- As stated earlier, not all institutions offer all culinary programs. Some institutions specialize in specific forms of food preparation. When selecting a culinary school, you should choose one that offers the program you wish to study. Additionally, the school you choose should be well equipped to guarantee adequate training. Culinary schools should have adequate tutors and facilities for practical sessions as well as personal reading. They should have enough reading materials that you can use to improve your skills.
  • Cost of The Program- The cost of pursuing a course to become a chef depends on various factors. The main one being the technicalities of the program. Most institutions charge higher tuition fees for technical courses such as pastry. To estimate the returns on investment, you should study the salary outlook of the program you pursue. Enrolling in expensive programs could affect your financial stability for a long time. However, the most expensive and technical culinary programs are very marketable. Having more chances of employment is a positive return on investment.

There are many more factors to consider when selecting a culinary school or program to enroll in. consulting career experts and practicing professional chefs could give you more insight into the programs.

Chef Career Resources

There are careers such as restaurant management that are closely related to being a professional chef. These careers are equally beneficial and offer as many employment opportunities as chefs. However, deciding on a career path could be difficult, especially for young professionals in the hotel industry. There are specializations that you can take up to increase your marketability in the industry. Any wrong decision in the specialization you choose could lead to wastage of time and resources. The need for information on careers in the hospitality industry increases as more people get interested in the field. If you intend to pursue a career as a professional chef or any other profession in the hotel industry, here are some common sources of information that could be useful.

  • School Libraries- Various academic institutions offer career guidance to students through various reading materials available in their respective libraries. As a prospective chef, you can find such reading materials about the hospitality industry whenever you need them. Institutions with well-advanced technology systems have online libraries with career guides on becoming a chef. In some instances, culinary schools organize workshops where students interact with professional chefs and other practitioners in the hospitality industry. This provides a learning opportunity for you to get information directly from people in your profession of interest.
  • The Internet- The internet is one of the best technological discoveries. You can access huge volumes of information on whichever subject you wish to study through the internet. Many companies in the food service industry publish information about programs and job opportunities for prospective chefs on websites. You can also get information about becoming a chef through online platforms such as social media and blogs. Sharing of information through the internet allows you to explore career opportunities beyond your geographical location.
  • Print Media- Despite the presence of the internet and digital information sharing, many organizations still embrace traditional print media as a form of communication. A lot of career information about the food and hospitality industry is shared through magazines and flyers. Such information includes career opportunities or culinary programs that one might enroll in. Additionally, journals and magazines by renowned chefs also offer a great insight into cooking as a career.

The above are the most common resources for prospective chefs. The institution you enroll in could have all the resources. However, some only have information about the culinary programs they offer.

In Summary

Cooking is one of the many career paths you can develop to professional levels from being a hobby. You can convert your love for cooking to be an income-generating activity by advancing your skills through culinary schools or apprenticeship programs. As a professional chef, there is no limit to how long you can practice in the hospitality industry. Instead, you become more marketable as you gain experience with advancing years in the hospitality industry. Work experience makes it easier for you to advance to managerial positions. This implies that you will be tasked with overseeing operations by junior chefs in your area of practice. Such positions include executive chefs.

Once you have ventured into professional cooking, constantly upgrade your skills and knowledge of the industry. Technological advancements in the hospitality industry have led to a consistent change in food preparation. Mechanization of food preparation processes requires chefs to be up-to-date with technical skills to handle complex equipment. To improve your marketability, there are several food-related courses you can pursue. These courses include public relations. With an additional skill set, you can practice in more than one area as a professional chef.

Financial consideration is one of the essential requirements before enrolling in a culinary program. It allows you to select profitable programs for your future as a professional chef. Additionally, you should consult with professionals and career experts to get a clear view of the industry before deciding on a career path.

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