What Type of Chef Can I Become?
Many chefs begin with little more than a love for food, creativity, and a dream to share their creativity through new and innovative combinations of flavors. A chef is an individual who cooks for other people as a profession and is responsible for the creation of new food dishes, but “chef” is not the title of only one job. A commercial kitchen has a hierarchy of duties that must be completed, and there are different variations of chefs that are trained to specialize in these different tasks.
People who enjoy working with one specific menu item, such as salads, meat, or appetizer creation, may be suited to perform as a line cook. A line cook, who may also be called a “station chef”, is the chef designated to take charge of a certain area of food production, such as meat or salad preparation, and is responsible for much of the cooking in a commercial kitchen. Line cooks may have a few assistants to help with food preparation, but in the majority of kitchens, line cooks work independently in their department. In some kitchens, titles like First, Second, or Third Cook are assigned to help clarify the kitchen hierarchy.
- Interview with a Line Cook – Payson Cushman, a line cook at Momofuku Ssäm in New York City, provides answers to some basic questions of what goes on in the day-to-day life of a line cook, and how he began on his career path.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – The BLS covers average expected wage earnings, required training, and information about the skills necessary to become a chef or food preparation worker.
- Salary Calculator – Not all chef positions are created equal, and there are different components that can influence a chef’s salary. The American Culinary Federation provides a free and comprehensive salary calculator to help gain a ballpark understanding of pay potential.
For those who have a sweet tooth, the position of pastry chef may be most desirable. In a traditional commercial kitchen, a pastry chef is the line cook in charge of and trained in the production of desserts, pastries, and breads. Pastry chefs are found everywhere from fine restaurants to small cafés, and spend their time developing recipes, refining the dessert menu, and preparing food for the workday.
- Explore It!: Pastry Chef – This comprehensive site provides a basic description of what’s necessary to become a pastry chef as well as typical education requirements for the position.
- 12 Questions for Ray Works – Ray Works is the executive pastry chef of UCLA, and in this interview, he describes what his day is like, how he got a job as a pastry chef, and what pastry production entails.
- Cake Decorating (and Why It's Tricky) – Decorating cakes may seem glamorous and fun, but according to lead pastry instructor of The International Culinary School, there’s a reality that needs to be addressed before dreams of being the next Cake Boss can begin.
The Sous Chef is, in essence, the second-in-command of the kitchen. A Sous Chef will act as assistant to the Executive Chef and a replacement or assistant to line cooks as necessary, and is therefore expected to know their way around all areas of food production. In some cases, a Sous Chef will also be in charge of scheduling shifts or other similar managerial duties.
- Day in the Life of a Sous-Chef – This article from Hcareers clarifies what is expected of a Sous Chef, and what roles a Sous Chef is expected to cover in the kitchen.
- Example Job Description – The Milpitas Unified School District provides this sample listing of the expected requirements and responsibilities for a Sous Chef.
- What’s a Sous Chef? – The Learning Channel answers this question and other queries about a position as a Sous Chef in this article by Josh Clark.
Working as an Executive Chef is an excellent option for those who are managerially-minded, and who are flexible in terms of daily expectations and operations. The Executive Chef is the chef who directs the day-to-day operation of the kitchen. They are often in charge of menu creation, plating design and layout, recipe production, and management of kitchen staff.
- Example Job Description – The Association of College Unions International provides an example Executive Chef job description, which gives a more detailed idea of what is required of an Executive Chef.
- Three Roads to Executive Chef – There are endless possibilities for becoming an executive chef, and Daniel M. Pliska, CEC, helps narrow it down.
- Cooking and Working with Passion – Corporate Executive Chef Steve Floyd offers advice for future culinary students, as well as a timeline of his own path towards becoming a chef.
For those individuals who find the stress and adrenaline of a commercial kitchen undesirable, there is the option of working as a personal chef. A personal chef is a chef who will prepare meals for a specific client or customer, often in the customer’s private kitchen, in accordance to the client’s dietary needs or preferences. Personal chefs are self-directed, and manage their own hours of work, shopping, food preparation, service throughout the meal, and cleanup. A personal chef may cook for an individual or a dinner party consisting of multiple guests, and may be called upon to provide meal planning for families.
- United States Personal Chef Association – Since a personal chef is self-directed, the USPCA provides a code of ethics that may be followed to ensure professionally guided customer service and excellence.
- Personal Chef to Royalty – Kristianne Uy serves as executive personal chef to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, and discusses her life as a home chef in this interview.
- Personal vs. Professional – This article from Le Cordon Bleu compares the differences between a personal chef and a professional chef.
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