What do chefs and cooks do?
The short answer? It all depends. Prep cooks, who are at the bottom of the kitchen totem pole, spend their time getting food items ready for the other chefs. They chop vegetables, prepare meats for cooking and weigh and measure ingredients. Line cooks are responsible primarily for cooking the food along with the sous chefs, who are the head chef's second in command. Sous chefs cook, help out the head chef whenever needed and stand in for the head chef during an absence.
A head chef or head cook is the kitchen boss. He or she not only has to be able to cook food and lead a team of kitchen workers but also has to figure out how much food will be needed for the week and order food and supplies. Yes, that means there will be math involved. At some restaurants, head chefs create the restaurant's menu and adjust it depending on the seasonality or availability of food - so being able to cook amazing dishes from scratch is a must.
As fun as that might sound, being a chef is not all glitz and glamour. Chefs and cooks work in a potentially dangerous environment and spend most of their time covered from head to toe in whatever food they happen to be cooking. That means if you end up at a seafood restaurant, you'd better get used to smelling like old shrimp. You'll also be doing more than just cooking - you'll be cleaning and disinfecting many of the items you work with, including grills, fryers and counter surfaces. It's messy work, but someone has to do it.
The hours can be brutal as well. As a chef, you'll be working weekends, early mornings, late evenings and holidays. Almost 33 percent of chefs and cooks work part time.
How much do chefs and cooks make?
We hate to break it to you, but the odds of becoming a celebrity chef and making millions of dollars a year are pretty slim. According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), chefs and head cooks make an average of $34,000 a year. But depending on where you work and how much experience you have, you could make up to $60,000 a year.
What are the education requirements?
You might not need an education to get into the restaurant industry , but it certainly doesn't hurt. A vocational school, trade school or training program is a great place to learn the basics. If you really want to learn everything you can about the biz, attend a culinary school or a four-year degree program.
Career paths for chefs and cooks
It's not the easiest job in the world, but it certainly can take you places. If you're a hard worker with a flair for creating food, you could be promoted from line cook to sous chef to head chef within a matter of years. With hard work, a passion for cooking and a little education, chefs and cooks can choose almost any food service career path they like.
The future of chef and cook jobs
It's a pretty good time to be a chef. According to the BLS, chef and cook jobs are expected to increase by 11 percent by 2016, which is about average for all jobs. However, it's going to get tougher for those of you looking to work in high-end restaurants. Culinary school or a college degree program will be necessary if you want to score one of these jobs.
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