Chefs and head cooks
What Chefs and Head Cooks Do
Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served. They direct kitchen staff and handle any food-related concerns.
Chefs and head cooks typically do the following:
- Check freshness of food and ingredients
- Supervise and coordinate activities of cooks and other food preparation workers
- Develop recipes and determine how to present the food
- Plan menus and ensure uniform serving sizes and quality of meals
- Inspect supplies, equipment, and work areas for cleanliness and functionality
- Hire, train, and supervise cooks and other food preparation workers
- Order and maintain inventory of food and supplies
- Monitor sanitation practices and follow kitchen safety standards
Chefs and head cooks use a variety of kitchen and cooking equipment, including step-in coolers, high-quality knives, meat slicers, and grinders. They also have access to large quantities of meats, spices, and produce. Some chefs use scheduling and purchasing software to help them in their administrative tasks.
Some chefs run their own restaurant or catering business. These chefs are often busy with kitchen and office work and have little time to interact with diners.
The following are examples of types of chefs and head cooks:
Executive chefs, head cooks, and chefs de cuisine are primarily responsible for overseeing the operation of a kitchen. They coordinate the work of sous chefs and other cooks, who prepare most of the meals. Executive chefs also have many duties beyond the kitchen. They design the menu, review food and beverage purchases, and often train cooks and other food preparation workers. Some executive chefs primarily handle administrative tasks and may spend less time in the kitchen.
Sous chefs are a kitchen’s second-in-command. They supervise the restaurant’s cooks, prepare meals, and report results to the head chefs. In the absence of the head chef, sous chefs run the kitchen.
Private household chefs typically work full time for one client, such as a corporate executive, university president, or diplomat, who regularly entertains as part of his or her official duties.
How to Become a Chef or Head Cook
Most chefs and head cooks learn their skills through work experience. Others receive training at a community college, technical school, culinary arts school, or a 4-year college. A small number learn through apprenticeship programs or in the armed forces.
A growing number of chefs and head cooks receive formal training at community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, and 4-year colleges.
Students in culinary programs spend most of their time in kitchens practicing their cooking skills. Programs cover all aspects of kitchen work, including menu planning, food sanitation procedures, and purchasing and inventory methods. Most training programs also require students to gain experience in a commercial kitchen through an internship or apprenticeship program.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Most chefs and head cooks start working in other positions, such as line cooks, learning cooking skills from the chefs they work for. Many spend years working in kitchens before learning enough to get promoted to chef or head cook positions.
Some chefs and head cooks train on the job, where they learn the same skills as in a formal education program. Some train in mentorship programs, where they work under the direction of an experienced chef. Executive chefs, head cooks, and sous chefs who work in fine-dining restaurants often have many years of training and experience.
Some chefs and head cooks learn through apprenticeship programs sponsored by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor. Apprenticeship programs generally last about 2 years and combine instructions and on-the-job training. Apprentices must complete at least 1,000 hours of both instructions and paid on-the-job training. Courses typically cover food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. Apprentices spend the rest of the training learning practical skills in a commercial kitchen under a chef's supervision.
The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs at post-secondary schools and sponsors apprenticeships around the country. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:
- Minimum age of 17
- High school education or equivalent
- Drug free
Some chefs and head cooks receive formal training in the armed forces or from individual hotel or restaurant chains.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although not required, certification can show competence and lead to advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation certifies personal chefs, in addition to various levels of chefs. Certification standards are based primarily on work-related experience and formal training. Minimum work experience for certification can range from 6 months to 5 years, depending on the level of certification.
Business skills. Executive chefs and chefs who run their own restaurant should understand the restaurant business. They should be skilled at administrative tasks, such as accounting and personnel management, and be able to manage a restaurant efficiently and profitably.
Communication skills. Because the pace in the kitchen can be hectic during peak dining hours, chefs must be able to communicate their orders clearly and effectively to staff.
Creativity. Chefs and head cooks must be creative in order to develop and prepare interesting and innovative recipes. They should be able to use various ingredients to create appealing meals for their customers.
Dexterity. Chefs and head cooks need excellent manual dexterity, including proper knife techniques for cutting, chopping, and dicing.
Leadership skills. Chefs and head cooks must have the ability to motivate kitchen staff and develop constructive and cooperative working relationships with them.
Sense of taste and smell. Chefs and head cooks must have a keen sense of taste and smell, to inspect food quality and to design meals that their customers enjoy.
Time-management skills. Chefs and head cooks must efficiently manage their time and the time of their staff. They must ensure that meals are prepared and that customers are served on time, especially during busy hours.
Chefs and Head Cooks
Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22
- Supervisors of food preparation and serving workers
- Total, all occupations
- Chefs and head cooks
Employment of chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Population and income growth are expected to result in greater demand for high-quality dishes at a variety of dining venues, including many upscale establishments.
However, employment growth should be limited, as many restaurants, in an effort to lower costs, choose to hire cooks or other food service workers to perform the work normally done by higher-paid chefs and head cooks.
Job opportunities should be best for chefs and head cooks with several years of work experience. The majority of job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. The fast pace, long hours, and high energy levels required for these jobs often lead to a high rate of turnover.
There will be strong competition for jobs at upscale restaurants, hotels, and casinos, where the pay is typically highest. Workers with a combination of business skills, previous work experience, and creativity should have the best job prospects.
|Occupational Title||SOC Code||Employment, 2012||Projected Employment, 2022||Change, 2012-22||Employment by Industry|
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
Chefs and head cooks
|Occupation||Description||Entry-Level Education||2012 Median Pay|
Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods.'
|Less than high school||$23,140|
Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods. This may include soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.'
|No Formal Education Is Required||$20,550|
|Food and beverage serving and related workers||
Food and beverage serving and related workers perform a variety of customer service, food preparation, and cleaning duties in restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating and drinking establishments.'
|Less than high school||$18,400|
|Food preparation workers||Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers. Food preparation workers prepare cold foods, slice meat, peel and cut vegetables, brew coffee or tea, and perform many other food service tasks.'||Less than high school||$19,300|
|Food service managers||Food service managers are responsible for the daily operations of restaurants and other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages to customers. Managers ensure that customers are satisfied with their dining experience. '||High school diploma or equivalent||$47,960|