A chef is an individual who cooks professionally. The definition of the term, however, varies depending on the place of employment and the level of responsibility. For example, the top chef of a restaurant is often referred to as the chief cook, head cook, chef de cuisine or executive chef. Regardless of the specific title, this is the person in charge of the kitchen, the menu and the style, and who supervises the rest of the kitchen staff.
A chef’s work can be practiced in a wide range of establishments, from fast food outlets and short-order diners to four-star haute cuisine restaurants. But becoming a chef involves more than a love of food and cooking. Do you think you have what it takes to become a chef?
The occupation of chef has numerous subdivisions, some of which are ranked by importance of contribution, creating a career ladder leading to head chef. Typically, there are many kinds of kitchen organizations, and the titles and duties of the chef in each position can vary widely depending on the particular restaurant.
The executive chef is the top-ranking chef who is in charge of everything related to the kitchen, including menu creation, personnel management and business aspects. Directly beneath this position is the sous chef, who acts as the kitchen supervisor and executive assistant of the head chef. Other specialty chef titles and tasks include sauce chef, fish cook, vegetable cook, roast cook, pastry chef and line cook.
The responsibilities of cooks and chefs are determined by a number of factors, including the type of restaurant in which they work. Short-order cooks prepare foods in restaurants, diners and coffee shops, and their responsibilities often include grilling, frying, preparing and garnishing food. They often work on several orders simultaneously. Beyond restaurant chefs who occupy kitchens and prepare meals for customers, there are several other venues a chef can apply cooking skills, including:
Competition is expected to be keen and to increase the higher the level at which the chef wishes to be employed. This is in part due to a renewed public interest in celebrity chefs and such popular reality television shows as “Iron Chef,” “Top Chef,” “Emeril Live,” “Martha Steward Living,” “Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals,” “Everyday Italian” and “Naked Chef,” to name but a few.
Salaries for chefs and other food preparation workers vary widely by region and employer. For example, higher wages can be found in resort areas and high-end restaurants.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for chefs and head cooks stretched from $34,370 to $60,730 in 2006. The pay ranges dipped for cafeteria cooks, short-order cooks and fast-food cooks.