What Training Do I Need to Become a Chef?

By: Keith Londrie

Ready to stand on your feet up to 70 hours a week in 95-degree plus heat? Up to working with all types of people in a sometimes-frantic atmosphere and at an always-hectic pace?

Prepared to wait years before you reach the top of your profession? If you can answer yes to these questions, you are ready to take your first step toward becoming a gatekeeper in Hades, er, I mean, a professional chef!

Although this career can really be like the above, most successful chefs say it is definitely worth it especially if you're passionate about food. Food definitely must be the center of your life not eating it, but preparing and presenting it! (Though a taste now and then will keep the good chef on track.)

Many years of training go into the making of a professional chef, one of the reasons a deep love of food and cooking is so important. Some potential chefs begin by taking courses in high school or after-high-school vocational training programs.

Others opt for formal education at private culinary schools or take culinary arts degree programs in college.

Apprenticeship (usually three years) and internship (often a year) are almost always required for completion of these programs because most employers in the field today won't accept less than hands-on training when it comes to hiring people who prepare the food for which their establishments are known.
Curriculums vary, but all good cooking schools teach you how to prepare and present a number of meals appropriately using the correct equipment, along with menu and portion planning, budgeting, purchasing, nutrition, and waste control.

You also learn proper sanitation and public health regulations regarding the handling of food which consist of a lot more than just a quick hand wash and a pinch of salt thrown over your shoulder for good luck.

Hotels, restaurateurs, cruise ships, and other establishments needing professional chefs look toward the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and its accreditation when going over the resume of a possible chef to work for them. The ACF puts their stamp of approval on more than 100 culinary school training programs and backs apprenticeship programs all over the USA.

If you have successfully completed training that's acceptable through the ACF's recognized standards, you've got a definite leg up on your competition who've recently received certificates from Bobs Burger Flipping School. This doesn't mean you're guaranteed a job, however you just have an advantage!

Chef certification or a degree in culinary arts is not an absolute requirement for becoming a professional chef. It's just regarded as the easiest way if there is such a thing. Some chefs become what they are through working under already-well-established professionals.

If they don't succeed their mentors (possibly at retirement), their mentors sometimes recommend them to other quality establishments to enable them to rise in their careers. This is wonderful if your mentor likes you; otherwise, when you leave that establishment, it's back to square one chopping, peeling, and cleaning up others' messes.

So, it's highly recommended to take the formal education route that is, if you're sure this career is to your liking. By all means, go for it! Who knows? In just a few short years, you, too, can spend hours and hours on your feet, dripping wet from the heat and exhausted from trying to get everyone doing what they're supposed to in your kitchen but hey, you'll be a chef!

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