Making it in the Restaurant Business: Life of a Chef

The most popular restaurants anywhere in the world are those that serve the most delicious dishes. Consequently, the chef in any restaurant plays a vital role for they are instrumental in preparing the kind of food that attracts customers. For this reason, training to be a certified chef is an arduous task.

To pursue the career of a chef, you need a high school diploma while a vocational course in business administration will be a plus. To qualify as a full chef, you need from 8 to 15 years of training and experience. Those who are interested in taking this kind of career can start training while in high school.

Options for training include:

  • You can earn a degree in Culinary Arts in a certified college or university which takes two-years for a certificate and four years for a diploma. 
  • There are privately-owned culinary schools all over the country where you can study to be a chef.
  • There is a three-year apprenticeship program in training to be a chef provided by the American Culinary Federation which works in cooperation with local employers and junior colleges.

The cost for a culinary education are as follows: from a community college – between $2,000 to $5,000 per year; from a public university - $3,000 to $18,000 per year; from culinary schools - $7,000 to $36,000 per year; and from a chef school in a private university - $14,000 - $36,000 per year. Additional costs include: professional cooking supplies, uniforms, and the customary expenses of room, board, books, and transportation.

Cost depends on the type of chef school chosen, the length of the program, and the condition of the culinary market in the locality. Prices of schools in New York and California are stiffer than those in Missouri. Those students who cannot afford can apply for available scholarships by filling out the FAFSA form to determine their eligibility.

The restaurant is a busy world filled with people doing many types of jobs with only one purpose: to serve customers the best kind of meals. Here are some key people:

  • Restaurant managers work to make sure that restaurants operate efficiently and profitably while maintaining a good reputation. They coordinate a variety of different activities.
  • Head Chefs - They oversee all the cooking and food preparation in the kitchen. Head chefs often create their own dishes as well and sometimes invent menus for the restaurant.
  • Sous Chefs are considered the under-chef of the kitchen or the second-in-command.
  • Short Order Cooks prepare and cook a variety of food ordered that requires only a short time to prepare.
  • Line Cooks work together to cook the food ordered and prepare all food needed for the service.
  • Pastry Cooks are the makers of breads, desserts, ice creams and additional sweet goods for a restaurant.
  • Bartenders mix drinks for bar patrons and maintain a well-stocked bar.
  • Servers/waiters take orders and bring food to the tables.
  • Food Runners help servers bring ready food to a table, ensuring that the customers get the food while still hot.

Different types of restaurants are based upon the style of menu, method of preparation and the cost. How food is served to the customers also determines the classification: Fast food restaurants offer speedy service whose operations may range from small as served from carts on the streets or franchised mega-corporations. Casual dining restaurants serve reasonably priced food in an informal atmosphere and often give table service. Family style restaurants are also casual dining restaurants with diners sharing food from large portions served like an at home dinner. Fine dining restaurants are full service restaurants with specific detailed meal courses. They are provided with high quality décor and staff often wears formal attire. A bistro is a café serving reasonably priced simple meals in a simple setting, especially in Paris. Buffets and smorgasbord provide patrons a selection of food at a fixed price as it is served on trays around bars, from which customers with plates serve themselves. The selection can be modest or very extensive. Cafes are informal restaurants offering a range of hot meals and made-to-order sandwiches. A cafeteria is a restaurant serving ready-cooked food arranged behind a food-serving counter and no table service.

For many people being a chef is an exciting and glamorous profession with a platoon of sous cooks to command, cooking delicious concoctions in a professional kitchen, using the best ingredients and enjoying the admiration of satisfied customers. Of course, these are some bonuses that go with the job. However, chefs work long and unusual hours, making it difficult for them to socialize outside of working schedules.  Normal working hours for someone in the restaurant business is about 60 hours per week but sometimes it goes as much as 12-18 hours a day. When there are big functions, chefs have to be around all the time.

The job of a chef is considered number eight among the most stressful jobs. As a chef, you have a kitchen to run, staff to motivate, guests to meet, innovative meals to plan and smooth operation of food service. You are also responsible for health and hygiene, feedback and the receptacle for everyone’s problems and complaints.

According to the National Salary Data, chefs earned between $40,943 and $67,168 in 2010, based on the salary survey website. The variables are: location and type of restaurant. Those chefs who are working in the New York and California area earned more than those in Texas or Missouri.