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How to Become a Chef

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Chefs are artisans with a passion for creating and making delicious foods for customers. There's no one way to become a chef, and on-the-job experience can be as valuable as formal training. However, taking classes at community colleges or trade schools is a way to gain an advantage in a field that can be highly competitive.

Formal Education

A chef's path often begins with two years of culinary education. Community colleges, trade schools, culinary arts schools and hospitality programs offer such training. For a more extensive and well-rounded education, complete a four-year hospitality or culinary arts bachelor's degree. Much of the coursework centers on learning ingredients, preparing recipes, baking, cooking, menu planning, inventory management and sanitation. Culinary students also take business-related classes in areas like entrepreneurship and selling. In some schools, you take a hands-on role by preparing food or taking orders in an on-campus restaurant.

Formal Apprenticeship

A formal apprenticeship is a hands-on educational alternative that blends work experience with classroom learning. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the American Culinary Federation has accredited 200 apprenticeship programs, as of 2014. Many apprenticeships are facilitated by industry associations and trade unions. The typical length is two years, and you spend a minimum of 1,000 hours between classes and on-the-job training. As with a college program, you learn all facets of food preparation, health and safety. A formal apprenticeship is completed with a veteran professional chef.

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Practical Work Experience

Another path to becoming a chef is simply to work in a restaurant kitchen and gain practical experience. Aspiring chefs may start in a dishwasher or cleaning role. Often, though, chefs start in an entry-level cook role. Cooks help chefs by preparing and cleaning equipment, mixing ingredients and carrying out other tasks in the food- preparation process. After you prove your basic cooking ability and professionalism in the kitchen, you may encounter opportunities to move into a chef or head cook job.

Certification and Skill Development

Chefs may establish credibility in their profession by gaining certifications from the American Culinary Federation. These are optional endorsements you can earn after working as a chef from six months to five years. During your education and work experience, develop several key professional skills. Food expertise and creativity are vital to separate yourself form the crowd as a top-quality chef. These skills help you innovate with new recipes. Chefs also supervise kitchen staff, so you need excellent leadership and communication abilities. Time-management and business acumen are also important if you want to run your own restaurant.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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