Cooks and Chefs


Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, take classes in family and consumer science (which often include cooking classes), mathematics, and English and speech. 

Most cooks receive on-the-job training that may last only a few weeks. Training includes learning the basics of working in a kitchen, including use of equipment; safely handling knives, slicers, mixers, and other tools; sanitary food handling techniques, and food preparation methods.

Postsecondary Training

Culinary students spend most of their time learning to prepare food through hands-on practice. At the same time, they learn how to use and care for kitchen equipment. Training programs often include courses in menu planning, determining portion size, controlling food costs, purchasing food supplies in quantity, selecting and storing food, and using leftovers. Students also learn hotel and restaurant sanitation and public health rules for handling food. Courses offered by private vocational schools, professional associations, and university programs often emphasize training in supervisory and management skills.

Professional associations and trade unions sometimes offer apprenticeship programs; for example, the American Culinary Federation (ACF), in cooperation with local employers, offers two- and three-year apprenticeship programs. These programs combine classroom work with on-the-job training under the supervision of a qualified chef and are an excellent way to begin your career. For more information, visit the education section of the ACF Web site http://www.acfchefs.org/ACF/Education/ACF/Education. Some large hotels and restaurants have their own training programs for new employees. The armed forces also offer good training and experience.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

To protect the public's health, chefs, cooks, and bakers are required by law in most states to possess a health certificate and to be examined periodically. These examinations, usually given by the state board of health, make certain that the individual is free from communicable diseases and skin infections. The American Culinary Federation offers certification at a variety of levels, such as executive chef and sous chef. In addition to educational and experience requirements, candidates must also pass written tests for each certification. Certification from ACF is recommended as a way to enhance your professional standing and advance your career. Certification is also provided by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Research Chefs Association, and the United States Personal Chef Association.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Entry-level positions typically are available without advanced training or experience; however, advanced positions may require years of experience and training. Those who aspire to own a restaurant or a catering business should also have a background in business management.

The successful chef or cook has a keen interest in food preparation and cooking and has a desire to experiment in developing new recipes and new food combinations. Cooks and chefs should be able to work as part of a team and to work under pressure during rush hours, in close quarters, and with a certain amount of noise and confusion. These employees need an even temperament and patience to contend with the public daily and to work closely with many other kinds of employees.

Immaculate personal cleanliness and good health are necessities in this trade. Applicants should possess physical stamina and be without serious physical impairments because of the mobility and activity the work requires. These employees spend many working hours standing, walking, and moving about.

Chefs and cooks must possess a keen sense of taste and smell. Hand and finger agility, hand-eye coordination, and a good memory are helpful. An artistic flair and creative talents in working with food are definitely strengths in this trade.