Careers in Cooking: Becoming a Chef

If you enjoy cooking, you might have entertained the thought at some point of becoming a professional chef. This is a career that takes a lot of work and discipline to break into, but most chefs love their job. It’s a great joy to be able to invent recipes and prepare food and share your creations with other people.

Probably the most effective way to become a chef is to pursue a degree in the culinary arts. You can go to a special culinary school, or to a traditional college or university that offers a culinary program. Community colleges and private institutions also offer culinary classes. There are many advantages to this kind of formal training program. First, you’ll get plenty of time to practice your craft, and learn all you can about food science, ingredients and taste combinations. You will be under the tutelage of professional teachers who can help you identify your strengths and work on your weaknesses. You will also have an inside track when it comes to jobs in kitchens and internships in major food organizations. And these kinds of positions will really improve your resume and lengthen your list of contacts and references, which will make it easier to find a job when you graduate. (Some culinary arts programs even offer help to their seniors with full-time job placement.) In addition, when you go to college for culinary arts you’ll be able to take business courses, which will help you if you want to become a chef in a management position, or if you want to go into business for yourself. You’ll need to know how to balance the books, keep the meals you prepare within a certain budget, and manage other employees.

The second path to becoming a chef is to work as an apprentice chef for a period of time, usually about three years, and then light out on your own. This might be a good strategy for someone who wants to forego the college experience, or who’s a mid-career professional who wants to switch careers and become a chef. The major drawback here, however, is that some businesses will only consider hiring candidates for chef positions with a college degree. But if you are interested in an apprenticeship, you might apply for one through the American Culinary Federation. They’ve set up several dozen apprenticeships throughout the United States. What’s exciting about being an apprentice is that you’re in the middle of the action from day one-getting into the kitchen, seeing how kitchen staff members interact and collaborate with one another to prepare meals, and helping to create dishes.

Being a chef also means being committed to your art. No matter where you are in your career, you should seize opportunities to learn about new foods, new flavors, new recipes. Food self-education is not only a must throughout your life, but it can also be quite delicious!