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How Much School Do I Need to Become a Chef?

by Clayton Browne

The food service industry is a great place for outgoing, high-energy people to work. You are going to be interacting with people all day, even if you work in the kitchen, so strong interpersonal skills are important. Many jobs in the food service and hospitality industry do not require much formal education, but it typically takes at least two or three of years of education and/or training to qualify to work as a chef.

School or On-the-Job Training?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most chefs learn their skills through work experience. This means that you do not have to go to school at all to qualify for some chef positions. However, individuals interested in working as a chef in a gourmet restaurant are typically required to have formal training, usually in a culinary school.

Educational Alternatives

Many academic institutions, including community colleges, technical schools and even major universities, offer culinary training programs. You also can pursue culinary training at a culinary school, such as the Culinary Institute of America, the Cordon Bleu College or Escoffier, dedicated solely to the culinary arts. Most institutions offer both two- and four-year culinary education programs. Both associate and bachelor's degree programs provide students with in-depth knowledge of preparing meats and vegetables as well as how to bake breads and make cakes, pastries and other desserts. The extra two years in a bachelor's degree program allows you to develop your skills in one or more specialty areas, and gives you a lot more hands-on experience working in real food service environments.

Apprenticeships or Armed Forces Training

You also can learn the basics of cooking, baking and the culinary arts as an apprentice or as a member of the armed forces. Culinary training apprenticeships are offered by food industry associations, trade unions and some culinary institutes. Most culinary apprenticeship programs last around two years and include classroom training and professional experience.

Chef Job Description

Chefs supervise the food preparation at restaurants or other places where food is served. They manage cooks and kitchen staff and are typically responsible for anything related to food in the management of a restaurant. Nearly all chefs start as sous chefs or pastry chefs, then work their way up to assistant chef and then head chef. It can take five to 10 years of kitchen experience to qualify for some head chef positions.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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