Culinary refers to the kitchen or cookery, and chefs are culinary professionals who create meals, pastries and desserts in all types of eateries and dining establishments, as well as some private households. While some chefs specialize in a specific type of cuisine or cooking, others prepare a wide variety of tasty meals and treats.
There are no specific qualifications to become a culinary chef. Many of these professionals gain experience over time and are promoted into this role. Some chefs attend culinary school and obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree in culinary arts, which can increase employment opportunities. Personal qualities also make chefs successful. They must be imaginative to create dishes that make them stand out and become their signature. An excellent palette and good sense of smell is also critical for this role, because chefs must be able to taste and smell all types of cuisine for a wide range of customers with different preferences.
Culinary chefs run a kitchen in a restaurant or other eating establishment. They select ingredients and develop recipes for the menu. They order kitchen supplies and food, maintain inventory and check food and other ingredients for freshness and taste. Culinary chefs hire, train and oversee the kitchen staff to ensure food is prepared properly. They also ensure the kitchen is sanitized and the staff follows safety and sanitary procedures that are compliant with local, state and federal regulations established for food preparation and cleanliness in commercial kitchens.
Chefs use sharp utensils, work close to heating elements and may have to work on slippery surfaces. Most kitchens are tight-knit quarters, so the staff must be able to function as a cohesive group. They often spend their time on their feet and work irregular hours, such as early mornings or late evenings to accommodate customers and food vendors. They also might have to work holidays. Running a kitchen often requires working long shifts to keep it running smoothly and safely.
Careers and Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a slow decline -- less than 1 percent -- for chefs between 2010 and 2020. Although a growing population in the U.S. will spur the demand for restaurants and eateries, an attempt to lower costs will result in many restaurants using general cooks to perform the tasks of chefs. The majority of job opportunities will be a result of many chefs leaving the profession because of the long hours and highly intense work environment. In 2011, chefs made a mean annual wage of $46,600 per year.
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.