Does a fridge full of ingredients start your wheels turning? Head chefs have to be creative, organized, energetic and, of course, they must love cooking and food. As anyone who's watched the Food Network knows, working as a chef is a stressful and physically demanding job. One of the perks of the job is that there's always something tasty around, which is good news because you might not have the energy to cook by the time you get home.
A head chef or executive chef is ultimately responsible for every dish that comes out of the kitchen. The chef doesn't typically handle prep work, like chopping vegetables and making sauces, but may cook entrees or put the finishing touches on finicky dishes. This person supervises everyone else working in the kitchen, so a shift may include tasting the things that sous chefs are preparing, giving feedback, and checking the plates before any dishes go out to diners. The amount of cooking the head chef does depends on the restaurant. In a small place, this person might do much of the cooking; in a large kitchen, most of the hands-on work is done by sous chefs.
The executive chef is responsible for menu planning and may create new dishes each day to offer as specials or make changes to the standard menu as the seasons change. Inventory is also a critical part of the job. The head chef often makes ingredient lists, does the ordering, and manages the budget or oversees the person who handles these tasks. The chef often handles hiring and firing decisions of kitchen staff.
Head chefs sometimes own the restaurants that they oversee. In other cases, chefs collaborate with the owner and get that person's approval for menu changes, budgets and personnel decisions.
Having a degree from a well-respected culinary school might help you get your foot in the door of a great restaurant, but experience is king when it comes to cooking. Not having a bachelor's degree won't be a problem in most restaurants. You are better off having four years of cooking experience than four years of college experience. Becoming a head chef requires you to work your way up, probably starting as a kitchen assistant or line cook and earning a reputation for your cooking ability.
Working as a head chef isn't a 9-to-5 job. It's not unusual to work 12-hour days, six days a week. It's also not an easy or glamorous job. Expect to spend your day on your feet working in a hot, crowded kitchen. Head chefs often have to work holidays in addition to primarily nights and weekends. Chefs may only have Monday off, when many restaurants close or are quiet enough to spare them.
Years of Experience and Salary
No one becomes head chef right away. It usually takes at least a few years to gain enough experience to be hired as an executive chef, but it could also take 10 years or more of working as a sous chef before you get your big break. Pay isn't tied to years of experience in this industry. You're likely to command a high salary if you're talented and in demand, rather than because you're an industry veteran.
Although some executive or head chefs are paid an annual salary, it's common for this position to be paid by the hour. There's a huge pay range in this position because some head chefs work in chain restaurants in small towns and others work in five-star restaurants in major cities. An average chef salary per hour is anywhere from $20 to $38. The median head chef salary is $45,950 as of May 2017, which means that half of head chefs earn less, and half earn more. However, in prestigious restaurants, it's common for the executive chef salary to be more than $100,000 per year.
Job Growth Trend
As long as Americans want to eat out, head chefs will continue to find work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 10 percent increase in these jobs between 2016 and 2026. However, anyone starting a cooking career should be aware that the restaurant industry can be unstable. You might have your dream job one day and lose it the next when the restaurant closes.