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Working as a chef is one of the most exciting career paths that you can take. There are plenty of options for budding culinary artists to learn from the best and find their way into some of the world’s best kitchens.
In this guide, we’ll give you a rundown on what it means to be a chef, and answer questions like “what is a chef de cuisine?” and “where do you get chef jobs?”, all so that you can learn how you can fulfill your dreams of becoming a top chef.
A chef is someone who has been trained as a professional cook and understands all aspects of food preparation. They often focus their attention on a specific type of cuisine, like French, Italian, or Japanese cooking.
Chefs are usually found heading up the kitchens of restaurants all around the world and you’re probably familiar with a few of them! Names like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and Julia Child are all famous chefs who are known for their extravagant flavors and attention to detail in every dish.
What Does a Chef Do?
There are a number of different types of chefs (which we’ll get into later), but generally speaking, a chef will oversee a kitchen and prepare various aspects of a meal.
Typically, an executive chef will be at the top, supervising the rest of the team, creating the menu, ordering ingredients, and managing the budget. They’ll also ensure that the kitchen is clean and up to all of the specific health requirements that their country enforces.
What Is the Difference Between a Chef and a Cook?
You might be wondering what the difference between a chef and a cook is, particularly when those phrases are often used interchangeably.
A cook can refer to anyone who is making food, regardless of their training, skill set, or background. You could even refer to yourself as a cook when you’re preparing dinner at home! Cooks can work anywhere, from schools and hospitals to commercial kitchens.
A chef, on the other hand, is a type of cook, and their training and experience are what make them a qualified professional versus an amateur or someone who is still learning.
If you work in a kitchen, you may see those lower in the team referred to as line cooks or junior cooks, when those individuals are still establishing themselves and building their skills. Once you become a station chef, or chef de partie, your skills are deemed to be at a high enough level for a new, more official title.
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Not every restaurant or culinary business will have every kind of chef on their team, but it’s good to understand what the career path looks like if you’re interested in finding chef jobs in the future.
A chef-owner (who may also be referred to as a group chef) may never actually touch a single ingredient in their kitchen. Instead, they’ll be responsible for managing the whole kitchen team and will work with the head chef to create the menu.
Business management skills are essential for this type of job. You’ll typically find that the top chefs who operate their own restaurants like Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck will work in this type of role, especially as they may be overseeing several locations at once. They’ll hire a head chef to work on the highest level of the food preparation but will usually stand back and let the team get to work.
Chef de Cuisine or Head Chef
Also known as the executive chef, the chef de cuisine, or the head chef, this is the most important person in the kitchen and is the highest member of the food preparation team. Their primary role is to oversee the rest of the kitchen staff and work on designing menus, along with creating and testing new dishes that could be added.
You can think of the head chef as the CEO of the kitchen, and most of the day-to-day work is done by those lower down the hierarchy. Finding executive chef jobs can be challenging, as there’s usually only one position available in any single restaurant.
Sous Chef or Under Chef
You’ve likely heard of the phrase before, but what is a sous chef? They’re also known as the second chef, or under chef, and are the right-hand person to executive chefs. Their daily duties may overlap slightly with the head chef, but they will often have a more hands-on role and will be actively involved in food preparation tasks.
Most small kitchens will only have one sous chef or none at all, while larger restaurants may have several (which is great if you’re looking for sous chef jobs!). The work of a sous can be varied, so take a look at sous chef job descriptions before applying for positions. In many cases, the sous will step into the role of head chef if that individual is not working or can take on some of the duties of the chef de partie when needed.
Chef de Partie or Senior Chef
The chef de partie, or senior chef, is in charge of a particular area of food preparation. For example, salads or desserts may be their only focus, and they’ll have a small team of assistants to work with them on that one piece of the meal. You may also see them referred to as station chefs for this reason.
There can sometimes be a hierarchy within the team of senior chefs, from junior to senior, but most will be given a title based on their food type. This can include the butcher chef, fish chef, grill chef, fry chef, or pastry chef.
So, what do you need to turn your love of food into a lucrative career as a chef? Let’s cover the basics.
Culinary Arts Degree
For many chefs, a degree in culinary arts is the first step in their careers. You’ll learn practical, hands-on skills that you’ll need to know when working as a chef, along with opportunities for internships or jobs in a real kitchen. Working on your bachelor’s degree in culinary arts will not only provide you with these skills, but you’ll also learn business and management techniques that will come in handy if you ever decide to run your own kitchen.
The Culinary Institute of America is one of the most respected chef schools in the world, but plenty of other schools offer culinary arts degrees that can help you on your way to working in a professional kitchen.
A degree isn’t the only path to becoming a professional chef. In fact, almost every notable celebrity cook doesn’t have a degree in culinary arts. Many simply started from the bottom and worked their way up the ladder, training under other chefs and gaining their skills that way instead.
While someone with a culinary degree may enter the workforce higher up the chain than you, there’s still plenty of opportunity for those working entry-level positions to learn and eventually work up to the chef jobs that you’re after.
Embracing Your Love of Food
Remember, whichever path you choose when you’re trying to become a chef, everything should always come back to your why. In this case, it should be your love of food. For millions of people, food is a love language that can’t be matched and can bring up strong and emotional feelings.
Whether it’s memories of a dish that your grandmother would make for you or a flavor profile that instantly takes you back to dinner with someone you love, food brings people together and makes our days better. When you’re finding kitchen life tough, keep those thoughts in mind to inspire and motivate you to follow your dreams.
Where Chefs Work
Unlike other professions where you may be stuck on a particular path, opportunities for professional chefs are plentiful and varied. Of course, working in a restaurant is often the goal for many aspiring chefs, but even here there’s some flexibility.
You could choose to work anywhere, from a small, local restaurant all the way up to a Michelin-starred establishment in a major city. Hotels often have some of the best restaurants in town, so don’t rule these out when you’re looking for executive chef jobs too!
Speaking of which, one of the most exciting jobs for executive chefs can be working as a private or personal chef. This could be one-off catering for a particular person who might be hosting a big event, or you could be hired as a daily cook for the rich and famous. There’s space here to carve out a career that works for you, whether you want to offer these services part-time while you’re still in school or if you’d prefer to earn your living as a freelancer.
Beyond catering for events like weddings or corporate conferences, chefs can also find work teaching at culinary schools or in research and test kitchens for commercial food companies. Food styling has also become a popular career path for social media-savvy chefs, creating eye-catching dishes for magazines, television, and advertising.
Average Salary for a Chef
Depending on the type of job you take, you could earn anything from $30,000-60,000 a year as a sous chef or executive chef in a restaurant. Top chefs in the world’s most expensive and well-known restaurants can find themselves easily making a six-figure salary after decades in the industry, and working as a private chef can see earnings of around $70-100,000 per year.
It’s Time to Head Into the Kitchen!
Now that you know all about different types of chefs and some of the career options open to you, it’s time to do what you do best: get cooking!
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