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Assistant chefs perform a variety of food preparation duties in his capacity as second-in-command, including both supervisory and cooking duties. Sometimes known as sous chefs, assistant chefs often receive specialized culinary training, and may advance to head chef positions once they have the necessary professional experience.
Assistant chefs aid head chefs with skilled food preparation and cooking. They may help train subordinate chefs and supervise their work. Assistant chefs may also be responsible for reviewing kitchen inventory and estimating what foods are needed. They also oversee the storage and disposal of leftover food products, and help to make sure that the kitchen is clean. Assistant chefs help head chefs develop and test new recipes, and maintain records of what food has been prepared and what ingredients were used. In addition, assistant chefs may be responsible for running the kitchen in the head chef’s absence.
Most assistant chefs receive formal training, though that is not necessarily a requirement. Training courses may be given at community colleges, culinary schools, technical schools, or colleges and universities. Students in culinary arts programs work in kitchens so they may prepare food and practice their cooking skills. They also take classes in nutrition, purchasing and inventory methods, menu planning and proper food storage procedures. Many culinary programs also require students to participate in internships at commercial kitchens, so they gain experience preparing food for customers. Some assistant chefs receive all of their training on the job. Experienced head chefs will instruct them in cooking and food preparation techniques. Apprenticeships through culinary associations, trade unions or culinary institutes also provide on-the-job training.
Assistant chefs work in restaurants, school cafeterias and other food service facilities. There are many hazards associated with the job, including cuts, burns, slips and falls, but these are usually not serious. Work as an assistant chef can be quite stressful, however, because you must hurry to prepare quality meals for customers in a timely manner. Assistant chefs’ schedules in a restaurant vary greatly, with some assistant chefs having to work early mornings and others having to work late nights. Many restaurant assistant chefs also have to work holidays and weekends. Those who work in cafeterias often have more regular schedules, though they may have to put in overtime as well.
In 2012, the median annual salary for chefs and head cooks was $42,480, while chefs working in travel-related food environments commanded between $47,000 and $48,000. The top 10 percent of chefs earned nearly $75,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for chefs, assistant chefs and other food preparation supervisors should grow by five percent between 2012 and 2022, which is a slower rate than the average for all occupations. There will still be opportunities for trained assistant chefs, however, because there is a great deal of turnover in the field due to burnout from job stress. Competition will be fierce for positions at upscale restaurants that tend to pay higher wages.
Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on BobVila.com, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.