If you love food, the prospect of training to become a chef might hold a great deal of appeal. Chefs get to create new menus, work with exotic ingredients and impress clients with their skill and imagination. But the jobs are demanding, and it takes time for new chefs to rise to the elite positions that so many entering the profession hope for.
Passion for Food
Becoming a chef is an opportunity for you to explore your passion for food and cooking. Many chefs get started cooking in the home and simply enjoy trying new foods and experimenting in the kitchen. Chefs receive training in the different types of ingredients, culinary styles and cooking techniques. Chefs who run their own restaurants have a great deal of creative freedom, including a say in how the restaurant is decorated, what type of food it serves and which specials are on the menu each night.
Variety of Work Environments
Chefs spend most of their time in kitchens, but the diversity of places that employ chefs allows for a great deal of variety over a career. Restaurants, including high-end eateries and small town diners, are only the beginning. Chefs also work for caterers, cooking food on-site for special events. They prepare food at resorts, aboard cruise ships and in hotels. Personal chefs also work for private clients, including celebrities, sometimes traveling with their clients to prepare food around the world.
Competition for chef positions in prestigious restaurants and other high-paid situations is strong. Chefs must compete with their peers both in culinary skill but also in their abilities to market new foods and attract customers. Many new job openings are entry-level chef positions that lack glamour. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only the highest-earning 10 percent of all chefs make more than $66,680 a year. Others earn significantly less, with those in the lowest 10 percent making below $22,120 annually.
Stress and Difficulty
Careers are stressful and physically demanding. Chefs' hours may extend late into the night following the dinner hour. They must be strong enough to handle the food prep equipment and large quantities of ingredients. They also must work fast to provide food on time for waiting customers. The time pressure in a kitchen leaves little room for mistakes, and chefs must learn quickly on the job to advance through the ranks.
2016 Salary Information for Chefs and Head Cooks
Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of $43,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chefs and head cooks earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $59,080, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 146,500 people were employed in the U.S. as chefs and head cooks.