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Chefs and Lead Cooks




What’s Needed:

  • Head chefs and cooks have no required educational background although many of them attend culinary school for a certificate associate degree or even bachelor degree in culinary arts.
  • On-the-job training is key for chefs and head chefs typically have years of it before rising to that position. Others go through formal apprenticeship programs.

What you study:

Two-year and four-year culinary school programs generally include courses in:

  • Food safety and storage
  • Menu planning
  • Stocks sauces and demi-glaces
  • Pastry and breads
  • Culinary math
  • Nutrition
  • Introductory business

Video Overview

An introductory description of the life of a chef. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.

A Day in the Life

Your sous-chef is your right hand.

Your restaurant’s service may not start until evening but your day begins well before noon. Chef means "chief" and aside from the owner and the executive chef you’re at the top of the kitchen hierarchy; that means long days. As you read the morning paper and drink your coffee you’re happy to see the local food critic proclaim your chicken the best in the city. The praise is welcome but you make a note to order extra chicken today.

The prep cooks and pastry cooks are the first ones through the door but you aren’t far behind them generally arriving before noon to oversee preparation check equipment and take inventory. Your first order of the day is to contact your distributor as you expect a run on your signature chicken dish. As your prep cook chops and stirs you warn him he’s going to be up to his elbows in chicken soon.

They’re the orchestra and you’re the conductor.

Your sous-chef is your right hand. Thanks to her you’re able to plan tonight’s specials while she takes care of deliveries. You design your specials around the freshest items in the kitchen. While you’re in the office you get some paperwork done filing the new dishwasher’s information and scanning resumes for new line cooks. Like every other chef in the city you’re always looking for a great line cook.

After designing tonight’s specials you work with your sous-chef on menus for upcoming events. Even during slow times you have an upcoming soiree to cater or a seasonal menu to plan. Unless you work for a chain restaurant with a static menu you’re always finding new ways to delight your patrons. During last week’s staff meeting your prep cook came up with a great suggestion. You whip up a sample to work out the plating and are impressed with the ingenuity that went into it; the dish is slated for tomorrow’s special.

Kitchen cleanliness is vital so everyone helps.

By mid-afternoon the restaurant is preparing for the dinner rush in earnest. You divide your time between cooking phone calls and meetings with the owner or event planners. Fortunately your sous-chef prep cook and line cooks work as a seamless unit freeing you to oversee instead of doing the work yourself. They’re the orchestra and you’re the conductor. You taste everything and give final approval though.

Once dinner service begins your night flies. You expedite on some nights; on others you cook. Tonight your sous-chef expedites while you jump on the line. As you predicted the chicken is flying out of the kitchen. By the end of the night you’re overheated and sore but exhilarated; the wait staff delivered customers’ compliments all night and the table bussers brought back nothing but empty plates. Although it’s late you stay to help the staff break down and clean everything. Kitchen cleanliness is vital so everyone helps.

It’s been another 12-hour day for you but that’s typical for a weekend. Barring unforeseen crises you’ll enjoy your upcoming time off on Monday and Tuesday.

Certifications and Licensing

While certification is not required in most states some states require food safety certification for chefs and cooks. Certification in certain specialties can be an asset for head cooks and chefs but few restaurants require it.

Job Flexibility

Full-time versus part-time:

Head cooks can expect to work long and inflexible hours. If the kitchen is open the chef must be there. However late mornings and evening shifts appeal to many chefs. The varied nature of the work also keeps it from becoming tiresome despite long days.

Work location:

While some private chefs work in homes head chefs and cooks invariably work in a restaurant environment.

Recommended Websites

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Chefs and Head Cooks ? Prospective head cooks will get an overview of what the job entails from this site’s occupational summary. With salary information a general overview and a job demand outlook the site is a useful resource for a broader view of the profession.
  • American Culinary Federation ? The largest organization for professional kitchen workers in the country the American Culinary Federation is an excellent reference site for prospective head chefs. More than 20000 culinary professionals contribute to the site. Cooks will find information on accredited culinary programs advice on financial aid certifications new job opportunities and culinary contests.
  • National Restaurant Association ? Head chefs must understand all aspects of the restaurant business and the National Restaurant Association is an outstanding source of information on managing a professional kitchen for head chefs executive chefs and restaurateurs. Visitors can also find the latest restaurant news and learn about further career development at the comprehensive website.

Salaries by City

See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column — for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.

StateCity / RegionTypical SalarySalary RangeJob Count% of All Jobs
AKAnchorage$42060$30K – $71K800.04%
ALBirmingham – Hoover$53140$33K – $74K1500.03%
ALHuntsville$34840$28K – $56K500.02%
ALMobile$39390$27K – $65K900.06%
ALMontgomery$37430$32K – $61K400.03%
ARFayetteville – Springdale – Rogers$38560$24K – $82K700.04%
ARFort Smith$22430$20K – $41KN/AN/A
ARLittle Rock – North Little Rock – ConwayN/AN/A – N/A1900.06%
AZFlagstaff$57530$32K – $73K1100.19%
AZPhoenix – Mesa – Glendale$50880$35K – $76K13800.08%
AZPrescott$39060$31K – $58K600.12%
AZTucson$40020$29K – $69K2800.08%
CABakersfield – Delano$29050$25K – $58K600.02%
CAFresno$36700$28K – $70K1000.03%
CALos Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale (Metro Area)$41210$26K – $85K26200.07%
CAModesto$47340$24K – $59K300.02%
CANapa$46670$32K – $119K900.14%
CAOakland – Fremont – Hayward (Metro Area)$45550$22K – $84K5200.05%
CAOxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura$41460$28K – $68K2900.10%
CARiverside – San Bernardino – Ontario$28620$17K – $71K13000.11%
CASacramento – Arden – Arcade – Roseville$49810$23K – $100K7500.09%
CASalinas$47560$30K – $92K1600.11%
CASan Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos$52110$33K – $74K11900.09%
CASan Francisco – San Mateo – Redwood City (Metro Area)$56390$32K – $93K13000.13%
CASan Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara$46450$31K – $70K4600.05%
CASan Luis Obispo – Paso Robles$34850$22K – $47KN/AN/A
CASanta Ana – Anaheim – Irvine (Metro Area)$52390$34K – $76K8100.06%
CASanta Barbara – Santa Maria – Goleta$51190$34K – $86K2000.12%
CASanta Cruz – Watsonville$44130$30K – $72K900.11%
CASanta Rosa – Petaluma$42830$27K – $60K2500.15%
CAStockton$37070$31K – $63K400.02%
CAVallejo – Fairfield$32380$20K – $71K400.03%
CAVisalia – Porterville$34700$22K – $71K400.03%
COBoulder$42000$33K – $57K1700.11%
COColorado Springs$37250$21K – $62K1600.07%
CODenver – Aurora – Broomfield$46670$28K – $70K8600.07%
COFort Collins – Loveland$35910$25K – $48K1300.10%
COGrand Junction$37000$25K – $69K300.05%
CTBridgeport – Stamford – NorwalkN/AN/A – N/A7300.18%
CTDanbury$56920$36K – $80K500.07%
CTHartford – West Hartford – East Hartford$42460$25K – $69K6300.11%
CTNew Haven$44090$30K – $73K3100.11%
CTNorwich – New London$52120$36K – $99K1600.13%
DCWashington – Arlington – Alexandria (Metro Area)$48430$27K – $84K30500.13%
DEDover$55730$35K – $72KN/AN/A
DEWilmington (Metro Area)$47640$28K – $66K1700.05%
FLCape Coral – Fort Myers$42100$29K – $74K2300.11%
FLCrestview – Fort Walton Beach – Destin$29340$25K – $63K300.04%
FLDeltona – Daytona Beach – Ormond Beach$53320$27K – $74K800.05%
FLFort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)$49420$29K – $73K4700.07%
FLGainesville$51620$33K – $59KN/AN/A
FLJacksonville$44770$32K – $64K2600.04%
FLLakeland – Winter Haven$33780$26K – $84KN/AN/A
FLMiami – Miami Beach – Kendall (Metro Area)$51710$32K – $70K7500.08%
FLNaples – Marco Island$47580$34K – $86K3100.27%
FLNorth Port – Bradenton – Sarasota$46240$33K – $75K2500.10%
FLOcala$43480$30K – $49KN/AN/A
FLOrlando – Kissimmee – Sanford$45600$26K – $89K9600.09%
FLPalm Bay – Melbourne – Titusville$52740$40K – $86K400.02%
FLPanama City – Lynn Haven – Panama City Beach$33660$26K – $58K300.05%
FLPensacola – Ferry Pass – Brent$46140$34K – $98K700.05%
FLPort St. Lucie$27890$23K – $55KN/AN/A
FLPunta Gorda$45990$31K – $60KN/AN/A
FLTallahassee$56300$38K – $75K300.02%
FLTampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater$37710$25K – $61K6800.06%
FLWest Palm Beach – Boca Raton – Boynton Beach (Metro Area)$54390$39K – $92K5800.11%
GAAtlanta – Sandy Springs – Marietta$35370$25K – $76K15400.07%
GAAugusta – Richmond County$29010$19K – $64K1800.09%
GABrunswick$44260$25K – $72K700.18%
GAColumbus$30290$26K – $40K1400.13%
GAGainesville$36570$23K – $48K500.07%
GASavannah$46120$34K – $80K1200.08%
GAValdosta$22760$20K – $37KN/AN/A
HIHonolulu$38570$29K – $89K9400.22%
IAAmes$38610$26K – $53K900.23%
IACedar Rapids$25730$18K – $40KN/AN/A
IADavenport – Moline – Rock Island$37110$25K – $60K1500.08%
IADes Moines – West Des Moines$33860$18K – $61K1000.03%
IADubuque$28920$21K – $44K300.06%
IAIowa City$24650$21K – $50K400.05%
IDBoise City – Nampa$30950$24K – $50K1800.07%
IDCoeur d’Alene ID$22750$17K – $44K400.08%
IDIdaho Falls$33540$23K – $47KN/AN/A
IDLewiston$23290$19K – $35K400.16%
IDPocatello$30630$21K – $38KN/AN/A
ILBloomington – Normal$41350$31K – $93K500.05%
ILChampaign – Urbana$41170$28K – $62K500.05%
ILChicago – Joliet – Naperville (Metro Area)$40000$25K – $73K28800.08%
ILDecatur$42580$26K – $53KN/AN/A
ILKankakee – Bradley$30340$20K – $58K500.12%
ILLake County – Kenosha County (Metro Area)$32930$26K – $68K2800.07%
ILPeoria$33740$25K – $60K1600.09%
ILRockford$35120$31K – $49K400.03%
ILSpringfield$35070$21K – $56K600.05%
INAnderson$22810$17K – $39K600.14%
INElkhart – Goshen$29260$23K – $46KN/AN/A
INEvansville$34160$21K – $57K400.02%
INGary (Metro Area)$37030$18K – $58K1800.07%
INIndianapolis – Carmel$42830$29K – $66K3000.03%
INLafayette$35000$22K – $61K400.05%
INSouth Bend – Mishawaka$34770$19K – $54K600.05%
INTerre HauteN/AN/A – N/A600.09%
KSLawrence$39070$17K – $54K400.08%
KSManhattan$21100$16K – $39K800.16%
KSWichita$34680$36930$29K – $63K1300.05%
KYLouisville – Jefferson County$37030$25K – $62K2500.04%
LABaton Rouge$27320$20K – $45K3000.08%
LAHouma – Bayou Cane – Thibodaux$36130$27K – $57KN/AN/A
LALafayette$29370$17K – $47K1200.08%
LALake Charles$41660$27K – $62K1000.11%
LANew Orleans – Metairie – Kenner$39410$26K – $60K6600.13%
LAShreveport – Bossier City$43430$31K – $59K1400.08%
MABarnstable Town$44710$33K – $64K2600.27%
MABoston – Cambridge – Quincy (Metro Area)$56280$39K – $84K17700.10%
MABrockton – Bridgewater – Easton (Metro Area)$52860$23K – $71K700.08%
MAFramingham (Metro Area)$47820$36K – $82K1100.07%
MAHaverhill – North Andover – Amesbury (Metro Area)$46640$31K – $84K900.11%
MALawrence – Methuen – Salem (Metro Area)$41320$33K – $64K400.06%
MALowell – Billerica – Chelmsford (Metro Area)$54030