How Many Years of School Does it Take to Become a Chef?
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Most chefs have some formal training; however formal training is not a prerequisite for employment. Several have learned their craft from working under mentor-chefs or through an intern program. Graduating from a culinary academy or training program does give the student an edge when seeking employment, but completion of a program does not prepare the student for a position as executive chef. That position is reserved for chefs who have worked their way through the ranks of the kitchen brigade.
Culinary Training Programs
A variety of training programs are offered through community colleges, two and four-year colleges, private culinary institutes and the military. Culinary students spend most of their time in school learning cooking skills and techniques. Those who major in hospitality also learn management and business skills to complement their culinary training. Students may focus on a specific area of study, such as pastry, sushi or French cuisine. Chefs are trained not only to cook, but to be a master of culinary forms. Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are offered in culinary arts, hospitality management, culinary arts management. Certificate and diploma programs are offered in gourmet cooking and catering through some colleges and trade schools.
Basic courses in a culinary training program will include food management safety courses as well as courses in international cuisine, baking and pastries. Nutrition is an important part of culinary training, as chefs are often employed by educational institutions, hospitals and other organizations that are required or need to provide healthy, nutritious meals or prepare foods for special diets. Chefs also learn how to run a commercial kitchen. Coursework will also include kitchen management, human relations, purchasing and cost control. Graduation requirements may also include an internship associated with the student’s concentration or specialty.
Certificate and diploma programs are typically 9 to 12 months in duration. The courses will focus on culinary skills necessary to work as a professional cook or assistant to a chef. Associate degree programs are generally two years in length and bachelor’s degrees are four. Degree programs require coursework related to the discipline as well as general education requirements. Three- to six-month internships may be completed during the time the student is enrolled in school.
Commercial kitchens operate on a hierarchy. The kitchen staff is referred to as the kitchen brigade. The general in charge is the executive chef. Everyone else in the kitchen is subject to his direction. These people are often trained in the culinary arts and working their way up the ranks. Employment opportunities are abundant. Several people are needed to staff a kitchen, and several leave the profession every year. Chef positions include the saucier, responsible for all sautéed foods; the fish chef, who is responsible for preparing all fish dishes and butchering the fish; the roast chef, who prepares all roasted foods and au jus; the grill chef prepares all grilled menu items; the fry chef; and the vegetable chef, who prepares appetizers, soups, vegetables and sometimes eggs. One chef may be responsible for roasting, grilling and frying. Other positions include the swing cook or roundsman who works various positions in the kitchen as needed, the cold-foods chef or garde-manger, the butcher, pastry chef and expediter. An apprentice, also called a commis, works under these chefs to learn how a station operates. The commis is often a culinary graduate who has also completed an internship.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11 Edition: Chefs, Head Cooks, and Food Preparation and Serving Supervisors
- Culinary Schools: Types of Chefs
- EduChoices: Chef: Education Requirements for Becoming a Chef
- Culinary Schools: International Culinary Schools at the Arts Institute
- Kendall College: Culinary Internships
- Chef’s Blade: Guide to the Kitchen Brigade System
Julie McMurchie has been writing family-related articles since 1990. Her work has appeared in "The Pony Express" and "California Kids Magazine." She studied composition and creative writing at Riverside Community College.