By: Jen Jones
A culinary chef has a wide range of duties in a modern restaurant. Chief among them are planning the restaurant's menu, preparing food, especially the main entrees, buying raw materials and foods needed to create the meals and managing kitchen staff. Other duties outside the kitchen may include setting the restaurant's style, advertising and customer relations.
Career possibilities are nearly limitless for a well-trained culinary chef. Options range from running a busy kitchen in a popular restaurant to working at an exotic hotel or far-flung resorts to taking to the high seas on cruise ship. Culinary chefs must also be business-minded, running their own restaurants, catering businesses and commercial kitchens. Other chefs venture into culinary writing, recipe and food testing, restaurant management and other food industry-related fields.
Start with a love of food and cooking, add an education at an accredited school and spice with your personality. A culinary chef must be part artist with a keen nose and taste buds, as well as a sense of what flavors mix well. Creativity plays a large roll in the career of a culinary chef. The job is almost never done alone, so chefs must be team players prepared to work hard and fast during rush periods when the pace is quick. Finally, a culinary chef must be highly organized to keep up with the environment of the commercial kitchen.
Successful chefs are those who love to learn. Chefs who have an education with an accredited culinary school have an easier time getting the jobs they want. While no certification is required to be a culinary chef, most attend at least a vocational school or serve an apprenticeship. Education courses are widely available, offering degrees in culinary arts at the diploma, associate and bachelor levels. Most restaurants use an apprentice program of some type, especially European professional kitchens. The normal training period is at least two years study.
Pay for culinary chefs varies greatly depending on many factors. Especially important in deciding salary are education and experience. Chefs can expect to make more money working for fine dining restaurants, hotels, private individuals or resorts, and what city you work in can also be an important factor in determining salary. A starting chef with a solid education can expect to start at $40,000. Earning potential for a chef with a solid education and several years of experience can be upwards of $80,000 depending on the restaurant.
Some of the more recognizable names among culinary chefs are PBS host Jacques Pepin who worked and wrote with Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, who owns restaurants throughout the United States, restaurant-owner and TV personality Emeril Legasse and the very popular cooking how-to TV host Alton Brown.
Check out our list of Culinary Arts / Chef Training Schools