How to Become a Chef: Be a Self-Taught Food Master or a Certified Career Professional
You spend your nights cooking elaborate dinners for your family, and you love it. Your co-workers constantly remark how incredible your home packed lunches look. You have no problem whipping up a gourmet German chocolate cake for your friend’s birthday. Sound familiar? If you have a passion for cooking food and are considering a career change – you’ve come to the right place. Becoming a chef is a rewarding career path and you just need a zest for cooking, some business know-how and determination. To learn some easy and healthy recipes from a professional chef, check out Cathy Erway’s Healthy Cooking Fundamentals.
The challenging journey to become a chef can be achieved by obtaining a degree in the culinary arts, or working your way up the food chain (pun intended) to earn your position at the top, without a degree.
Want to become a professional and certified chef? You rock. At this point you probably know your deep passion for everything food. Eating it, preparing it, presenting it, and sharing it. If this sounds like you then Chef [your name] it is.
Chefs are chef’s because they know food, inside and out. They’ve totally mastered food manipulation and preparation. These skills don’t have to be inherit though, you can adopt chef techniques by studying and practicing (the best part!).
Here’s how to start your culinary arts education and career.
Have a passion for food. Might be obvious but sans food passion you’re likely to be a lousy chef.
Understand what it takes. Being a chef is not just playing in a kitchen and eating good food. It’s a lot of work. As a professional chef you will be responsible for creating a menu, preparing the food to order, mastering presentation, supervising employees and kitchen staff, maintaining inventory and keeping records.
Choose a specialty. What kind of Chef are you most interested in becoming? Here are a few to choose from: Executive Chef, Saucier, Pastry Chef, Sous Chef, Garde Manger, or Personal Chef.
Be honest with yourself. So you now know you want to be, let’s say, a Pastry Chef. (Learn how to become a pastry chef in this online pastry chef training.) You’ve got to honestly assess yourself in a couple arenas before you pursue getting your new career in the culinary arts.
- Can you multi-task?
- Are you a people person?
- Do you work well under pressure?
- How are your decision making skills?
- Can you stand on your feet for hours on end?
Find a School. There are a lot of options available to you. Most chefs have at least attended at vocational or trade school to study food safety. You can also learn more about the HACCP food safety standards in this online course. Some chefs have invested a bit more time and earned an associates or bachelor’s degree from a 2-4 year institution. If you are ambitious and can’t get enough you can actually earn your doctorate in the culinary arts like the famous chef, Emeril. To locate a culinary school in your state use this map.
Some of the top schools worldwide include:
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)
Le Cordon Bleu College
French Culinary Institute of New York City (FCI)
Johnson and Wales University
New England Culinary Institute
L’Academie de Cuisine
Hong Kong Culinary Academy
Culinary Academy of India
Hattori Nutrition College
Keiser University Centre for the Culinary Arts
Apply to jobs. Again, might be obvious, but you want to apply for a position as a chef, or, an apprentice. Either way, you’re getting yourself a spot amongst the ranks which will help you excel in your career as chef. Work on your cover letter and present yourself in a positive way, highlighting all of your accomplishments and distinctions.
Want to try your hand at Chefdom without going to a culinary school?
It’s possible. May not be the easy route, but it can certainly be a solution for the monetarily challenged. Famous chefs like Gordan Ramsay, Mario Batali, and Santi Santamari are a testament to this road less taken. If you decide you want to become a professional chef without getting a formal education you are going to have to be ready to work really hard. Even if you are gifted in the kitchen, it’s going to take perseverance and resiliency to become the one calling all the shots.
Your plan is going to look similar to the school path, except instead of finding a school – you need to find a kitchen. So we’re going to start there assuming that you have a passion for food, and think you have what it takes to become a chef.
Find a kitchen. This doesn’t mean find a new kitchen for your home, or find a friends kitchen to cook in. You need to find a kitchen that you can become employed to work in. The best way to learn is to get experience. You may be a bangin’ chef, but without someone with cred to back that up, you aren’t going to make it very far. You can start by looking at local restaurants. Even if you are just the dishwasher – working in a restaurant is the best way for you to get your foot in the door.
Self-study. When you’re not working, you should be studying. There are a million online avenues that you can take to improve your knowledge of the culinary industry. The more you know, the more marketable you are. Take online courses on food safety and handling, tips and techniques, learn your knife cuts, learn French, and learn everything you possibly can from the wealth of the web, library and current chefs.
Work, work, work. You are going to need to put in the hours to reap the benefits. Working in restaurants can be grueling with long shifts, cranky customers, and no breaks in a hot and cramped kitchen. You need to be willing to endure the elements to become the best chef you can be. Keep a good attitude and keep your goals in focus. Sometimes working as a prep cook in a mediocre kitchen may not seem like the golden ticket, but every day and every challenge you overcome gets you one step closer to realizing your dream.
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