Artists make work that appeals to the eyes and musicians make work that appeals to the ears, but chefs cater to all the senses. So the next time you're delivered a perfectly cooked and seasoned plate of food in a restaurant, give credit to the chef. The head chef or executive chef may not have cooked every element on the plate, but she's ultimately responsible for the food that her customers are served. That's one reason why working as a chef is so challenging and so rewarding: your reputation hangs on the quality of each and every dish that leaves your kitchen.
A chef does much more than simply cook. A sous chef, who works under the supervision of a head chef or executive chef, spends much of the work day in the kitchen preparing ingredients, making sauces and cooking dishes. The head chef, in turn, supervises the sous chefs and other kitchen staff and does some of the cooking, but the person in this position has other responsibilities, too.
A restaurant's chef is responsible for all aspects of the kitchen and the food that diners receive, from start to finish. She might create new dishes for the regular menu or she might design nightly specials based on available seasonal ingredients. Depending on the size and structure of the restaurant, the chef may also budget and order the food. She'll inspect all the fresh ingredients that arrive in the kitchen, to make sure that they're all of good quality. In addition to cooking some food, the chef will also taste the food that the kitchen staff are preparing, and she'll inspect plated dishes before they're delivered to tables.
Not all restaurants chefs are in charge of designing menus. In chain restaurants or in legacy eateries with unchanging menus, chefs don't get to create new recipes. In those cases, the job is simply to cook and run the kitchen.
Having a college degree isn't a necessity to become a chef. Restaurateurs and restaurant managers may look for chef candidates who have graduated from cooking school – but many successful chefs never took that step, instead learning on the job. Ultimately, having lots of experience, creativity, food knowledge and talent matters more than education in this field.
The restaurant industry is notoriously difficult. Chefs often work very long hours, six or seven days a week. The work is physically demanding because chefs work on their feet all day, carry heavy items and frequently get burned and cut. Furthermore, the industry is competitive and new restaurants often fail, so chefs may be out of work at any time.
Years of Experience and Salary
Experience is hugely prized in the restaurant industry, and experienced chefs may be able to command higher salaries as they progress in their careers. But it's rare to get rich on an executive chef salary. If you're thinking about entering this line of work, don't look at the average celebrity chef salary as an indicator of what you might earn. Definitely don't expect to match Gordon Ramsay's 2016 earnings, which were estimated at $54 million.
The median salary for chefs was $45,950 as of May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median means that half of chefs earned more than $45,950 and half earned less. The median chef salary per hour was $22.09 – but chefs who are paid an annual salary can't accurately estimate what their hourly rate will be, because chefs work unpredictable schedules and also very long hours.
Job Growth Trend
People need to eat, and the demand for chef-prepared cuisine is unlikely to fade any time soon. The BLS forecasts a 10-percent increase in chef jobs in the period between 2016 and 2026, higher than the 7 percent average growth rate predicted for that same period across all industries.