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How to Become an Executive Chef

An executive chef, also known as chef de cuisine or head chef, is the top supervisor in a private or corporate food environment, overseeing all kitchen operations, including personnel, food production, and budgeting. In catering and restaurant venues, the executive chef also coordinates the standard flow of food with front-of-the-house managers to ensure the best possible service for guests.

Executive chef job description

An executive chef is responsible for nearly all the day-to-day functions of a kitchen, including:

  • Recruiting and hiring
  • Ordering and purchasing supplies, food, and equipment
  • Developing menus
  • Researching industry trends
  • Budgeting and financial planning
  • Food safety systems in the establishment

Depending on the venue, an executive chef can be very hands-on, preparing dishes or finishing the plates to ensure quality standards. Their role may also be more business oriented, with the majority of their time spent outside of the kitchen. When food service begins, the executive chef oversees and orchestrates the entire operation, ensuring everything runs smoothly by motivating staff and taking care of questions and issues that may arise.

Executive chef training and education requirements

Chef training certification and degree programs can be found all over the world, with traditional classroom learning, hands-on kitchen training, and online classes available at accredited colleges and universities, trade and technical schools, and continuing education facilities.

Culinary certifications and degree programs offer a broad education, preparing students for entry-level positions. Culinary externships and internships offer students the opportunity to experience a range of kitchen positions under the supervision of an executive chef. Earning a certificate or degree in culinary provides you with the foundation needed to advance in the industry. This specialized training, along with on-the-job experience in the culinary field, can help develop the skills needed to become an executive chef such as:

  • Knowledge of food safety and sanitation in the kitchen
  • Financial management and budgeting
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Performance management skills
  • Time management skills
  • Analytical skills

Executive chef salary and career information

Because the executive chef is ultimately in charge of the kitchen operations, there will always be a need for this role in some capacity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for chefs and head cooks are expected to grow by 9%, which is slightly better than the average growth of 7% for all jobs nationwide. The salary for executive chefs varies widely based on location, type of employer, and years of experience. According to BLS data, here are the states that paid the best average salaries for chefs and head cooks in 2014

  • District of Columbia: $62,850
  • New Jersey: $56,200
  • Florida: $55,080
  • Connecticut: $54,950
  • Massachusetts: $53,890

The BLS reported a nationwide average salary of $45,880 for chefs and head cooks in 2014, with a total employment of 118,130. Landing a job in a top-paying city can net you significantly more. Chefs working in the top paying metropolitan statistical area of New York-White Plains-Wayne NY/NJ had an annual mean wage of $80,940.

Most chefs enter the field based on a love of cooking rather than the promise of a high salary, but those who rise through the ranks to take on the responsibility of an executive chef generally enjoy higher pay and greater job stability than those working as line cooks or even sous chefs. If you want to combine your passion for food with a business role, executive chef degree programs can teach you what you need to know.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Chefs and Head Cooks, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm 

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