Inside Chef Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"You Get What You Pay For With This School...
most people are surprised that the teachers are there to help and answer any questions I had. Most people think that they have to cook food with no recipes but are surprised that we are given the recipes and guidelines on how to cook the recipes." (Culinary Arts; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Nevada, female
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Art Institute Of Las Vegas in Nevada; completed Associate degree in 2012

"Low Compensation For Cooks...
Most people are surprised by how little cooks are paid in compared to their front-of-house counterparts. Very few people understand that cooks at a fine-dining restaurant usually make less than half of what a server makes." (Pantry Cook; 2014)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Texas, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Le-Cordon Bleu - Austin in Texas; completed Associate degree in 2010

"Takes A Lot Of Time...
I was surprised at how many hours it actually takes. It takes from morning until late evening some days" (Chef; 2013)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Florida, female
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Keiser University in Florida in 2010

"Start Time Varies From Place To Place...
I was surprised that the work hours were not as long or as early as I thought they would be. I have only worked as one place since graduation, but I think that it depends on the location and type of place you are working at. I thought I would need to be in at 3 or 4 am, but the earliest I have needed to be at work was 6:30am." (Pastry Chef; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in New Jersey, female
School: Studied Baking And Pastry Arts at Johnson & Wales University in New Jersey; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Please Consider An Alternative To Traditional Culinary Schools...
I was surprised that training was second rate compared to just getting an apprenticeship in a kitchen. Don't go to culinary school, the debt to pay ration is insane. It's a good job, but a difficult one, and it's not worth going into debt for, in my opinion. You will definitely make less than schools promote after you graduate" (Chef; 2014)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, female
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pennsylvania; completed Certificate degree in 2007

"Many Opportunities To Learn...
A lot of people are surprised to learn that there are many, many job openings in the field of culinary arts all over the country and the world. There is also a pretty big surprise when people find out that there are so many different types of people who work in the industry. All of the people you get to work with and encounter pretty much always can teach you something you may have never realized before." (Executive Chef; 2014)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Minnesota, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu College Of Culinary Arts in Minnesota; completed Associate degree in 2011

"It's Amazing How A Career In Food Arts Can Take You Places You Never Thought You Would Go...
I was surprised at how easy it was to prepare and cook food. I think others would be surprised at how difficult it can get." (Culinary Arts; 2013)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Tennessee, female
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Le Cole Culinar in Tennessee; completed Certificate degree in 2010

"Take A Closer Look At The Culinary...
Anyone who thinks that being a chef means simply preparing food for others is sorely mistaken. To be a chef means to truly embrace the culinary arts and take pride in creating not only delicious, but also inventive and creative dishes to be enjoyed by others." (Chef; 2014)

Career: 12 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Culinary Institute Of America in New York; completed Associate degree in 2008

"Harsh Work Environment...
Most people are shocked about how laborious cooking actually is. On the television, being a chef is perceived to be a relaxing career, when in all actuality, it's quite stressful." (Chef; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Florida, female
School: Studied Culinary at Valencia Community College in Florida; completed Associate degree in 2012

"Adapting To Head Chef Role...
I was very surprised how long I tried to adapt and get along with all my Coworkers and getting them back in pace since now I was going to be Head Chef and in charge of everything and everyone. I was also surprised about how my old Prep Chefs are now top Head Chefs in other restaurants in the area." (Head Chef; 2014)

Career: 14 years of experience, currently based in Connecticut, male
School: Studied Culinary And Baking at (CIA) Culinary Institute Of America in New York; completed Certificate degree in 1999

"Customer Contact...
I was surprised at just how client-facing being a pastry chef is. You are consistently talking to people and making sure they're enjoying the process of selecting a dessert." (Pastry Chef; 2012)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Patisserie & Baking at Le Cordon Bleu in California; completed Certificate degree in 2012

"I was surprised that being a chef was more than just cooking. The preparation, planning, food ordering, and menu creation was things I had to learn. I spent more time learning the business side than I did actually cooking food." (Head Culinary Chef; 2012)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania; completed Associate degree in 2003

"I was surprised to just how great of a work life balance it is to work in the culinary arts if you choose the right sector which you work. I work in healthcare, and I get all holidays off, don't work weekends, and my typical hours are 8-4. This is very untypical of a chef as you always hear in culinary school that typical hours are 12 hours or more per day. Business and Industry have the same hours, making these choices typically not the first to come up when looking for a chef job, but the best for work life balance. Another surprising aspect of being a chef is just how much research you need to do. Being constantly knowledgeable about changing trends, food market reports, etc is incredibly important, and near another full time job. It is not enough to be able to cook, but know industry trends, and market fluctuations which have a direct impact on the business. Knowing about growing seasons, weather conditions, fuel increases, all are necessary to know as a chef to keep profitable. I just thought you needed to know about food, but in reality, you need to know how other sectors, energy, manufacturing, etc have an impact on your business and overall success." (Executive Chef-Assistant Director; 2012)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts-AS, Culinary Nutrition-BS at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island; completed Bachelor degree in 2008

"I was surprised with how fast paced it is. Before you can even finish a meal you are called upon to make more." (Chef; 2012)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in New York, male
School: Studied Food at Harkness in New York; completed Certificate degree in 2011

"In order to be a chef, not only do you have to be a good chef, you have to be creative with the dishes you make. Works hours may contain weekends, late evenings, early mornings and holidays." (Chef; 2012)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in New York, male
School: Studied Culinary Arts And Cooking at The Institute Of Culinary Education, New York in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Line Cook: "Working as a cook can be a very stressful job. Most of the work happens right around the same times everyday. In an eight hour shift, you will spend seven hours preparing for one very busy hour. However, it can also be very exciting work. The adrenaline rush of serving three hundred people in less than two hours is indescribable." (2011)

Pastry Chef: "The best part of the job is when a customer comes in to pick up a cake and their eyes light up when they see it. We deliver a lot of wedding cakes, and don't usually see the bride and groom during the delivery, because they are at the ceremony, but we'll occasionally get a thank you note with a picture of them cutting the cake, telling us how much their guests enjoyed it and thanking us for helping to make their day special. The worst part of the job is when something goes wrong and you have to throw product out. I've had to throw out entire cakes and start over, and that's very frustrating." (2011)

Career Background


  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Video

Career Tips

"What Kind Of Restaurant Should I Start In...
If you want to be a successful chef, you should start out working for a smaller, culinary-arts minded restaurant so that you can do the most learning. These tend to be the environments which foster the most creative growth and knowledge acquisition. You can always work higher up at a chain or large restaurant later if your artistic track does not pan out as well or as quickly as you'd like." (Pantry Cook; 2014)

"Knowledge Is Power...
If you really want to be at the top of the game in the culinary arts, one of the best practices is practice. A person should start learning to cook for themselves from an early age and keep trying out as many things as possible. It is also adamant that a person read and learn as much as they can about everything in the culinary arts to broaden their scope." (Executive Chef; 2014)

"Something You Should Know...
Always have a pencil and paper handy because there are always little tips that everyone will give you to help you out." (Culinary Arts; 2014)

"Follow Your Heart...
For those who feel that that have a passion for cooking and wish to pursue that as a career, here is some advice: Follow your gut feeling. Embrace your creative side and be willing to take risks without the fear of humiliation. That is the only true way to learn any art." (Chef; 2014)

"When your in the Culinary business it is important for a lot of education in the early years in the stage, work and ask a lot of questions in the restaurant and find a job, Take extra course and read cooking books etc." (Head Chef; 2014)

"Learn While You Work...
Get an ACFEF Culinary Apprenticeship, and always be working to hone your skills and learn new things." (Chef; 2014)

"Getting Ahead...
When going to study Culinary , make sure you are open to criticism and ready to learn. Also, One should be open to suggestions, it can you further in the field." (Culinary Arts; 2013)

"Practice, Practice, Practice...
Practice A LOT. Cook for everyone you can whenever you can and always ask their opinions. You also have to have thick skin and you can't let criticism offend you." (Chef; 2013)

"Do Your Research Before Deciding To Cook...
If you're considering specializing in the culinary industry, I suggest taking a tour of a couple different kitchens first. Do your research, and figure out exactly where in the culinary industry you see yourself being happy." (Chef; 2013)

"Practice To Improve And Stay Sharp...
Practice your skills every chance you get, because it is the only way to improve. In your spare time it is good to consistently practice certain things like piping using toothpaste, because that is the only way to improve and to keep your skills sharp." (Pastry Chef; 2013)

"Chef School Is Pricey...
Culinary school can be very expensive. Spend a year as a dishwasher or prep cook to make sure this is the career you want. Try to become friends with the waitstaff. Your life will be much better if the cooks aren't fighting with the waiters. Tensions can run high when restaurants are at their busiest. Remember to leave all that behind when you hang up your apron at the end of the day." (Line Cook; 2011)

"Not As Glamorous As You See On TV...
Food service is physically demanding work. The hours are odd, you never get to sit down, and kitchens are hot. You might watch Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes or Cupcake Wars on TV, but the reality of working in a bakery is much less glamorous. There are certainly rewards, but it is very repetitive work, and before all that fun decorating can happen you need to bake all that cake. Think about scooping out batter for 300 cupcakes standing in front of a hot oven on a 90 degree day when the AC just isn't keeping up. Expect burns and cuts. Make sure it's what you really want to do." (Pastry Chef; 2011)