Pros and Cons of an Executive Chef Career
An executive chef develops recipes, plans menus, manages assistant chefs and food preparation workers, maintains inventory and supervises operations of a commercial kitchen, including the administrative aspects. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of a career as an executive chef to determine if it's the right career for you.
|Pros of an Executive Chef Career|
|An executive chef controls the kitchen*|
|Many work venues from which to choose*|
|Chefs have freedom to experiment with recipe development and menu creation*|
|Professional certifications can help an executive chef to show competence in various skill sets*|
|Cons of an Executive Chef Career|
|Employment of chefs and head cooks is expected to grow slowly at 5% between 2012 and 2022*|
|Executive chefs may spend more time on administrative tasks than on cooking*|
|An executive chef may work long hours, often while standing (sometimes 12-hour days)*|
|Kitchens are typically hot and crowded places to work, as well as potentially hazardous*|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*
Essential Career Information
An executive chef is responsible for accepting deliveries and ensuring the freshness of all food products. They assign kitchen duties as well as develop new recipes and create menus. They're responsible for kitchen cleanliness and making sure all safety standards and practices are met. As an executive chef, you would also be responsible for ensuring that food sent to diners meets specific standards for quality and taste.
Salary and Outlook Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate executive chefs from other cooks and head chefs when reporting salary. According to the BLS, there were 118,130 chefs and head cooks working in the United States as of May 2014. Many of these individuals earned between $23,000 and $74,000 annually, although the industry and location they work in may affect their earnings. For example, those in grocery stores reported annual mean earnings of around $39,000, while executive chefs in traveler accommodations reported earnings of $53,000. Chefs in Pennsylvania reported earnings of $44,000, while those in the District of Columbia reported an average of $63,000 as of May 2014. The BLS predicted that employment of chefs and head cooks would grow slowly from 2012 to 2022, with the expected additional of 6,000 jobs. This was projected to be due to restaurants hiring lower-level cooks in an effort to save money.
Education and Training Requirements
There is no one education or training path required to work as an executive chef. The BLS notes that many chefs start as short-order cooks or line cooks and work their way up the ranks to the executive chef level; however, some employers may seek individuals with college degrees for positions as executive chefs. Education programs are available as certificates, associate degrees or bachelor's degrees in areas like culinary arts. Often, employers seek candidates who have experience working in a professional kitchen in addition to seeking those with professional certifications.
What Are Employers Looking For?
An executive chef should be able to communicate their expectations to others and to lead teams of individuals with diverse personalities. Companies often seek executive chefs with post-secondary education and at least two years of experience. What follows are examples of real job advertisements from April 2012.
- A New York life-care community seeks an executive chef to plan meals and run a culinary team. This individual should have ten years of professional experience and a culinary degree.
- A Chicago restaurant company seeks an executive chef to work with teams in 23 locations and develop menus. This individual should have five years or more of experience leading kitchen teams, enthusiasm for Asian cuisine and leadership capabilities.
- A South Carolina company seeks an executive chef to train new personnel and handle administrative tasks like scheduling, inventory management and cost controls. This person should have good computer and communication skills.
- A New York-based company seeks an executive chef to recruit and train employees, assist in strategic planning, create budgets and menus and to oversee food preparation. In this position, the executive chef supervises sous and pastry chefs in addition to his or her recipe-testing duties.
- A hotel restaurant in Rhode Island seeks an executive chef to supervise kitchen staff and create menus. This person should have at least two years of experience.
Standing Out From the Crowd
An aspiring executive chef has multiple options to distinguish themselves. One option is to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in culinary arts. Another option is to obtain professional certification. Read on to learn more.
Further Your Education
Community colleges and professional trade schools offer certificates and 2-year associate degrees in culinary arts and hospitality. These short-term programs allow you to gain the skills and training you need to work in the culinary field without spending four years in school. In the associate degree programs, you complete courses in cooking theory, catering and banquets. You may also complete hands-on learning experiences working in approved restaurants and kitchens. Additionally, you study the basics of catering, food service management and cost control. Bachelor's degree programs in culinary arts are also available. These programs often include additional courses in business, finance and leadership that can be beneficial for someone in an executive chef position.
Obtain Professional Certifications
Another way to prove your skills to prospective employers is to earn industry certification. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers 14 different certification levels in a variety of cooking specialties, including a Certified Executive Chef credential for those who have a high school diploma and a minimum of 150 continuing education hours (www.acfchefs.org). You'll have to show proof that you've completed courses in supervision, sanitation and nutrition and have at least three years of work experience supervising three full-time employees. To qualify for the credential, you'll have to successfully complete both written and practical exams.
If food is your passion but you're more interested in creating desserts and sweet treats than breakfast, lunch or dinner fare, you might want to consider a career as a baker. Entry-level baking positions can be available to individuals with a high school diploma, but these individuals often work long hours. As of May 2011, there were 149,910 bakers working in the United States. The majority of these individuals earned between $17,000 and $37,000. The BLS projected that bakers would see little change in employment from 2010-2020, with a gain of around two percent.
If you want to work in a kitchen but don't want the responsibility of an executive chef, you could consider a position as a short-order cook. These kitchen professionals often cook a variety of items, clean tools and work stations and assemble orders for service, either by kitchen staff or wait staff. This particular career requires only a high school diploma, according to the Occupational Information Network (www.onetonline.org). Earnings, as of 2011, start at about $9.70 per hour. This profession may experience slow growth - approximately three percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.