How do I Become a Head Chef?

Patrick Roland

There is more than one way to begin a career if you want to become a head chef. Future chefs can get their start through work or education, but all must climb the ladder of experience to be a kitchen success. Becoming a head chef usually takes time and dedication, and many long hours of work.

A head chef.
A head chef.

The classroom has been a great starting place for many who want to become a head chef. High school vocational programs are a popular way to get experience with this industry. In addition, there are highly reputable two- and four-year college programs around the globe, many focusing on different aspects of restaurants. Coursework runs through every aspect of successful kitchen operation, from properly slicing and dicing, sanitation, cooking techniques, and management. Most graduates of these programs will have enough experience and knowledge to begin work as a cook or lower-level chef.

Chefs working in a restaurant kitchen.
Chefs working in a restaurant kitchen.

Those who want to become a head chef without attending classes still have many options available. A number of successful chefs started their careers at the bottom, including working as a dishwasher, and worked their way up. While most will not be able to leap into commercial food preparation, starting a career as part of the waitstaff or as a kitchen helper is a sure way to get a foot in the door and learn the business from the ground up.

No matter how a person gets his or her start, most head chefs will say that experience is the key to attaining that position. A large kitchen staff consists of many different jobs, all of which a head chef must master. Most entry-level positions are as line cooks or station cooks, who focus primarily on one specific aspect of that day's menu. Further up the ladder, there are sauce chefs, prep cooks, roast chefs, vegetable chefs, fish chefs, and more.

The sous chef, however, is the best place to learn. A sous chef is second in command and helps manage employees, cooks more complex dishes, plans menus, and buys supplies while learning from the boss. Taking on these responsibilities is considered a surefire way to become a head chef.

Some estimate that it takes ten years of kitchen work to gather the necessary experience to become a head chef. In addition to the kitchen work, a head chef must also be an expert with bookkeeping, management, and customer relations. A successful head chef is the byproduct of years and years of hard work, patience, and learning.

A head chef has to be an excellent bookkeeper.
A head chef has to be an excellent bookkeeper.

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