When Can You Be Called a Chef?

When Can You Be Called a Chef?

So you love food and enjoy cooking and have often thought of making a career of it. You know attending culinary school will help get you on your way, but once you're out of school, what else does it take to reach the pinnacle of your profession?

Be advised: no one starts at the top. You'll be putting in some long hours learning the ropes, and working your way up. You'll need to master all facets of food preparation and presentation before you're a true professional chef.

Paying Your Dues in the Kitchen

Professional chefs can expect to put in long hours under sometimes difficult conditions: that old adage about "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" is never more apt than in the life of a chef. But most aspiring chefs understand it's going to be hard work. They also understand that, though they can expect to make a good living, they probably won't become rich. They are not in the culinary field for exorbitant financial rewards, but rather because they have a passion for food and can't imagine doing anything else.

Working conditions aside, you should expect to gain wide-ranging experience in food acquisition, preparation, and presentation. You'll need to learn about managing a kitchen, including knowing how to order food and other supplies so the kitchen runs smoothly. You'll need to know how to hire the right team to work with you, so you have the support you need as you concentrate on the creative working of cooking. You'll also need to learn about presentation -- boosting eye appeal is an essential part of cooking, especially with today's ever-more sophisticated diners.

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Where Might I Work as a Professional Chef?

You will have a choice of settings to work in, including these:

  • restaurants
  • cruise ships
  • hospitals
  • corporate headquarters
  • resorts
  • private estates
  • hotels
  • institutional or commercial food preparation
  • catering
  • bakeries

Once you've chosen the direction you want to go in, you'll need to expand your knowledge of the types of foods that you'll be required to prepare. Obviously, a chef at a fine Italian restaurant will need some knowledge in preparing basic Marinara sauce, but would also likely want to develop original recipes and creations so that the restaurant will stand out from the crowd. Or, a chef in a hospital or retirement home would need to be aware of the types of foods that, while being tasty and appealing, meet the health and nutritional requirements of the individuals who are being served.

Also, it's important to understand the difference between a chef and a head chef. Chefs are generally in charge of food preparation, be it at a restaurant or any place where food is served. Head chefs have more responsibility, including hiring, supervising, and managing kitchen staff, as well as serving as interface between customers or the owner of the establishment.

Life-long Learning

Finishing culinary school should in some ways just be the start of your culinary education. While you'll have obtained the basics in kitchen management, and food acquisition, preparation, and presentation, you'll need to develop your expertise by practicing your art even away from work. Some of the best ways to expand your knowledge are these:

  • books and magazine articles
  • television food shows
  • videos
  • preparing new recipes for friends and family and evaluating feedback
  • attending food festivals, or ethnic festivals where new kinds of food are offered
  • travel
  • joining professional organizations

And don't neglect to build your business skills. A successful chef needs to have a knack for food, but also should have good business skills. You'll likely be involved in managing the operation, and the point of most food operations is to make money, or at least to break even. You'll be a step ahead in the game if you can demonstrate to any potential employer that you can balance the accounts, have good bookkeeping skills, and are adept at people management.

Attending Culinary School

You can certainly become a chef without a college degree. But acquiring the basics either through a culinary arts school will provide valuable preparation for entering the culinary professional You'll learn cooking techniques, how to plan meals, food sanitation essentials, how to use kitchen equipment, and how to purchase food and supplies. A culinary arts program can give you the confidence you need to launch yourself in the professional world, as you work toward the goal of becoming a chef.

When Can You Be Called a Chef?

Do you think you might have what it takes to become a head chef? If you want to earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Culinary Arts, consider ECPI University’s Culinary Institute of Virginia. For more information about this degree path, connect with a helpful admissions counselor today.

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