Chef and Cook Job Descriptions

All About Culinary Careers

Chef
••• A chef at work. Tetra Images / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Chefs and cooks prepare food in restaurants and other dining establishments. A chef or head cook supervises other culinary workers and oversees the running of the kitchen and, often, the entire establishment. He or she may also be called an executive chef or chefs de cuisine. 

A cook who works under a chef's or head cook's supervision may be called an assistant or line cook. Cooks also have job titles that reflect where they work.

There are restaurant, private hospital, and institutional and hospital cooks. Alternatively, he or she may have a job title that refers to his or her duties, for example, fry, grill or prep cook.

Quick Facts

  • Chefs and head cooks earn a median annual salary of $45,950. Restaurant cooks earn $25,180 a year, while those who work in institutions and cafeterias make $25,860 annually and private household cooks bring home $38,280 per year (2017).
  • About 25,000 people work as private household cooks, 425,000 are employees in institutions and cafeterias, 1.2 million are restaurant cooks, and 147,000 are chefs and head cooks (2016).
  • The job outlook in the culinary field, in general, ranges from very good to excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of chefs, head cooks, and restaurant cooks will grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. Employment of cooks working in private households and institutions and cafeterias will grow as fast as the average for all occupations.

    A Day in the Lives of Chefs and Cooks

    These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for culinary jobs on Indeed.com:

    Chef/Head Cook

    • "Manage all aspects of kitchen operations, including menu planning, staffing, scheduling, training, and shift execution"
    • "Create theme menus, ideas for ice sculptures, decorations, banquets, and special events"
    • Ensure compliance with federal, state, local, and company health, safety, and sanitation standards; work in a clean, neat manner, ensuring that all sanitation and nutrition practices are maintained by all kitchen employees at all times"
    • Create meals that are tasty, visually appealing, and meet the dietary requirements established by the dietitian"
    • "Maintain budget in all financial areas: food, labor, operating costs"

    Cook

    • "Assist with preparation and presentation of meals"
    • Weigh, measure, and mix ingredients according to recipes or personal judgment, using various kitchen utensils and equipment"
    • "Handle special dietary requests and work with guests requiring special requests due to dietary concerns"
    • "Maintain cleanliness, sanitation, and organization of assigned work areas"
    • "Prepare at least five orders concurrently as ordered"

    The Truth About Culinary Careers

    Jobs in this field are typically full-time and include working when people go out to eat. Their schedules include evenings, weekends and holidays. Those with more significant responsibilities, for example, executive chefs, may work 12 hour days.

    Work is very fast-paced and can be stressful. It also involves standing for long periods of time which can be physically grueling.

    Injuries such as cuts and burns are common, as are those caused by slips and falls.

    How to Become a Chef or Cook

    If you want to be a chef or cook, your high school may offer some classes. Courses are also available at vocational school programs that you may be able to attend while still in high school. To prepare to become a head cook or chef,  you must complete a formal training program. 

    Training is also available at culinary arts schools, two and four-year colleges, and the armed forces. Culinary students usually complete internships or apprenticeships to gain hands-on experience.

    A chef may receive certification that demonstrates to an employer that he or she has achieved a certain level of proficiency. The American Culinary Federation is one organization that offers this credential.  

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    In addition to certification, and classroom and hands-on training, you will also needs particular soft skills— personal qualities you are either born with or acquire through life experience—to succeed in this field.

     A culinary career requires physical stamina, manual dexterity, and an excellent sense of taste and smell. The ability to function as a member of a team is essential.

    Chefs and head cooks must have the creativity to develop recipes. They should be strong leaders and have excellent speaking, listeninginterpersonal, and time management skills.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    In job announcements on Indeed.com, employers listed the following requirements for chefs and cooks:

    • "Exemplary organizational abilities"
    • "Knowledge of special dietary needs and allergen issues in a food service operation"
    • "Impeccable service standards, clean work habits, with a great attention to detail"
    • "Able to maintain a big picture view of the happenings in the kitchen"
    • "The desire to learn"
    • "Proven ability to direct staff clear and concisely while positively influencing employee behavior and performance"
    • "Be able to work as a part of a team, be guest focussed, and value cleanliness and organization"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Do you have the traits that make being a chef or cook a suitable career for you? A self assessment can help you learn about your interestspersonality type, and work-related values.

    Being a chef and head cook may be a good fit if you have the following traits:

    Take This Quiz: Should You Become a Chef?

    If you have the following traits, you may enjoy being a cook:

    • Interests: REA (Realistic, Enterprising, Artistic)
    • Personality Type: ESTJ, ISTP, INFP, INTJ, INTP
    • Work-Related Values: Support, Relationships, Independence

    Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Food Service ManagerRuns a restaurant or other establishment that serves food 

    $52,030

    Some post-secondary education in hospitality management
    BartenderMixes alcoholic beverages$21,690Short-term on-the-job training
    Food Preparation WorkerPerform routine tasks under a chef's or cook's direction$22,730On-the-job training

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited June 21, 2018).