3 answers

What education is needed to become a chef?

Asked Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Things you can consider for this specific question...

What are the minimum qualifications to work as a chef?
What are the steps to completing the required education to become a chef?
If you are a chef, what educational path did you take?

3 answers

Rosie’s Answer

Updated California, California

Alexandra,

Do blood, sweat and tears count as a education? :)


Teresa did a great job telling everyone the different paths to being a chef, I can elaborate by telling you how I became a chef.


I started as a dishwasher and worked very hard and had to prove myself everyday to show people I could do the hard work. When I mastered dish washing I worked just as hard as prep cook and had to keep proving to others that I could do the job. I kept working my way up the chain like that until I became a chef. It took 8 years of hard work, focus and being mentored by other chefs to learn what I needed to be proficient at my craft. Even than there were people with better skills and more education, so after 15 years of working in the food industry I went back to school to get my degree. 2 years later I am happy to tell you I am still a successful chef loving my industry.


Motivation, commitment, hard work, a willingness to sacrifice and being flexible all helped me become a better professional chef.


The best advice comes from those who work in the industry, find someone who will mentor you and it will help you decide whether cooking is right for you. Love what you do and it will never feel like work.


Good luck,


Chef R

Liz’s Answer

Updated San Francisco, California

Hi Alexandra,


This is an excellent question. While I've never held the title of "chef," I've worked in the food industry for most of my career in many capacities. I've been a prep cook for a catering company, and a line cook in a couple of restaurants. But possibly the most relevant insight I can share is from my experience hiring and managing chefs to run our kitchens at Bi-Rite in San Francisco.


I would certainly echo all of Teresa's comments on a good balance of classroom and on-the-job training. A key area I would add is the chef's ability to nurture, train, and develop others in their kitchens. A successful kitchen is one that runs like a well-oiled machine, and a crucial ingredient here is the chef's leadership skills. This means that in addition to learning your culinary chops and honing your knife skills, you must also hone your people skills. Otherwise, brilliant as you may become in producing great food, you won't succeed in an equally important area, which is inspiring and growing your team to do the same.


Gaining relevant experience here, from what I've witnessed over time, usually comes from three areas:

  1. Seeking out great chef mentors: if you can find an internship or entry level job working under chefs and sous-chefs who take the time to teach and delegate, you can learn those skills as well.
  2. Taking advantage of on-the-job leadership opportunities: if you have the opportunity to become a trainer, or later a supervisor or sous-chef, use those opportunities to understand how to motivate and grow the folks in your charge. Listen, accept feedback, but be decisive in key moments. Learn how to mess up and recover from it! Leading others is challenging and you're likely to fail sometimes at first. The first management job I took involved managing people who had been at the company a lot longer than I had. I had to learn to make decisions, but also defer to their institutional expertise to show deference and respect for their tenure. I also had to have some direct conversations about how to make the relationships work. All of these skills took practice.
  3. Taking advantage of leadership coursework: if you decide to become enrolled in a culinary program, be sure to tackle coursework in leadership and management. Some students can feel like these courses aren't relevant for them as they focus on the cooking part of the job, but the more you can learn about these skills from an early stage the better.

And finally, if you're interested in some good reading on the subject, here are a couple of my favorite books:

Ari Weinzweig: Zingerman's Guide to Good Leading , Part 2

Jack Stack is always a good place to start too: The Great Game of Business


Have fun!


Liz

Teresa’s Answer

Updated

Hi Alexandra,


Here's my advice for future culinary professionals. There are many different paths people take to become chefs, whether it involves starting with an educational training or on-the-job training. I have worked with many talented cooks and chefs who have come from both sides. I myself chose to enroll in a 2-year pastry program at my local community college (because it was more affordable) after receiving my Bachelor's from a 4-year school. I then proceeded to start from the bottom as a pastry cook and worked my way up through the ranks, picking up all the necessary knowledge and training on the way that is best learned from real-life experience.


Understanding that it takes time to master techniques and gain the experience to learn the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens is key. It is a place that requires a lot of hard work, perseverance, and drive if you want to stay the course. Also know that restaurants aren't the only context you can apply any cooking skills you acquire. You can move into catering, corporate catering, private chef positions, school programs, test kitchens for various publications and media outlets, and so on. I've included the words of Anthony Bourdain himself for some additional advice, because he was never afraid of the truth. I've also included a link below for career options that can be considered outside of the traditional restaurant setting.


If the structured educational path is the chosen starting point, look into local programs in your area: the cost, time-frame, and commitment are all factors that should be weighed against other well known programs like the Culinary Institute of America, Le Cordon Bleu, or the Institute of Culinary Education that can cost a bit more and may require you to move.


If you want to forgo school and jump right into cooking, be prepared to start at the bottom! You may need to start as a dishwasher or prep cook, learning all the necessary knife skills that are the base of the culinary world. But if you put in the work, you can move through the positions of the line and learn so much in real time, while getting paid in the process. See what restaurants or businesses around you are looking for entry level help and are willing to train as you go.


Happy cooking to all!



Real advice from Anthony Bourdain:

http://ruhlman.com/2010/09/so-you-wanna-be-a-chef%E2%80%94-by-bourdain-2/


Culinary positions outside of restaurants:

https://www.ice.edu/newyork/career-resources/alumni/careers-outside-kitchen


Pros and Cons (while the numbers may have changed, the general points are relevant):

https://www.eater.com/2013/7/11/6408893/culinary-school-the-pros-and-cons-of-culinary-education


Traditional education programs:

https://www.ciachef.edu/

https://www.cordonbleu.edu/home/en

https://www.ice.edu/