Individuals interested in becoming a chef often train as an apprentice, or commis (a junior chef). Through this position, people get to work in the food industry, performing basic tasks as they learn. Working in a professional kitchen, training under a full-time chef has proved to be a beneficial way to learn about the restaurant business for many aspiring chefs.
Some individuals work as apprentices in addition to attending culinary school. In this case, they can choose to do an apprenticeship concurrently or after finishing their program in culinary school. Many kitchens, however, do not require that apprentices have formal education in a hospitality program. Many aspiring chefs, therefore will chose to work for longer as an apprentice instead of going to culinary school since it is much more financially appealing. The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 formal training programs while sponsoring apprenticeship programs all over the U.S. Most apprenticeships last two years and combine both work experience and time in the classroom.
An apprentice chef needs to be passionate and knowledgeable about the food industry. She should have basic culinary skills, such as knife skills, and knowledge of different ingredients, cooking equipment and kitchen procedures. Working as an apprentice chef, however, is supposed to be a crucial time for aspiring chefs to develop many of the skills and knowledge they will later need to run their own kitchens. It is a time for them to foster skills as well as experience the demands, pace and pressure of a kitchen.
These employees perform some of the tedious tasks involved with operating a restaurant, dining hall, or cafeteria. An apprentice helps a chef prepare and cook dishes while training to be a full-time chef himself. He also oversees food supplies in refrigerators and storerooms, cleans and serves food when necessary. Additionally, under supervision, he operates kitchen equipment such as mixers, choppers, fryers, toasters, steamers, stoves and ovens.
Apprentice chefs typically work in kitchens in restaurants, hotels, schools, catering companies and food service contractors. Although the seating areas of these places are attractive, the kitchens apprentice chefs work in can be hectic. They are often hot, crowded, and filled with potential safety hazards such as slippery floors and hot ovens. The pace can be hectic and work schedules can include long hours.
According to All Culinary Schools' website, the annual earnings of the middle 50 percent of apprentice chefs in March 2010 range from $22,233 to $28,695 a year. From this position, however, many individuals move on to become sous chefs who earn between $33,192 and $53,123 a year and eventually to being executive chefs who make on average between $57,471 and $87,563 a year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, employment of chefs is expected to increase 6 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is slightly slower than for most occupations. Job opportunities are still expected to be good, however. Keen competition is expected at upscale restaurants since they typically pay more. As the economy is in flux workers with a strong business sense are expected to become more competitive applicants. The fast pace, necessary high energy levels, and long hours for these jobs often lead to high turnover in employment.
2016 Salary Information for Chefs and Head Cooks
Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of $43,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chefs and head cooks earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $59,080, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 146,500 people were employed in the U.S. as chefs and head cooks.