How to become a qualified chef
Chef de cuisine, executive chef, chef manager, head chef, and master chef
Culinary education is available from many institutions offering diploma, associate, and bachelor degree programs in culinary arts. Depending on the level of education, this can take one to four years. An internship is often part of the curriculum. Regardless of the education received, most professional kitchens follow the apprenticeship system, and most new cooks will start at a lower-level 2nd or 1st cook position and work their way up.
The training period for a chef is generally four years as an apprentice. A newly qualified chef is advanced or more commonly a torquecommis-chef, consisting of first-year commis, second-year commis, and so on. The rate of pay is usually in accordance with the training status. Commis chefs, like all other chefs except the executive-chef, are placed in sections of the kitchen (e.g., the starter (appetizer) or entrée sections) under the guidance of a demi-chef de partie and are given relatively basic tasks. Ideally, over time, a commis will spend a certain period in each section of the kitchen to learn the basics. Unaided, a commis may work on the vegetable station of a kitchen.
What Education Do You Need to Be a Chef?
High School Diploma or GED
Some chefs have no education beyond a high school diploma and on the job training, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many chefs work their way up through jobs at fast food restaurants or as short order cooks, eventually becoming assistant chefs. Internships and summer jobs at resorts can also provide valuable training experience.
Several vocational schools, community colleges and culinary schools offer culinary arts certificates which may take only a few months to complete. The Culinary Institute of America, for example, has a Pro Chef certification program that is self paced with a certification exam. This certification can help advance your career but you're still likely to have to work under an executive chef with supervision.
Associate programs in culinary arts tend to be two-year programs and focus on culinary skills such as knife skills and skills with advanced cooking equipment. Basic cuisines are covered as well as food management such as storage, hygiene and food safety. Associate programs also cover sanitation and various food stations in a professional kitchen. Many vocational school, community colleges and culinary schools offer associate's degrees.
Bachelor's or Higher
Bachelor's degree programs teach kitchen management, inventory control, event cooking and competition. These programs might also teach food ordering and help a chef find her own style. Some bachelor's programs are specialized and might focus on a particular kind of cooking, such as the sustainability specialization in the New England Culinary Institute culinary arts bachelor's. There are also graduate degrees for chefs.