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How to Become a Fine Dining Chef

Fine dining chefs are the artists behind some of the most delectable dishes you've ever tasted. In addition to developing innovative recipes, refining flavor profiles, and creating beautiful plates of food, fine dining chefs also handle many of the day-to-day responsibilities of running a gourmet kitchen.

Culinary Arts

Fine dining chef job description

Fine dining chefs work in upscale restaurants, where they are responsible for planning menus, developing new recipes, supervising kitchen staff, and preparing food. Like other workers in the food service industry, fine dining chefs spend long hours in the kitchen. On a given day, a fine dining chef may perform any of the following tasks:

  • Create recipes and plan menus
  • Determine serving size
  • Prepare ingredients and final dishes
  • Order supplies
  • Teach other cooks to prepare menu items
  • Ensure sanitation regulations are met

The specific cooking and management duties of a fine dining chef vary depending on his or her position. Fine dining chefs working in upscale restaurants may hold one of the following positions:

  • Sous Chef: The sous chef is the second-in-command after the executive or head chef. The sous chef often helps the head chef prepare food, develop recipes, and manage other cooks.
  • Chef de Cuisine: The chef de cuisine is in charge of the culinary operations of a kitchen. He or she supervises food preparation and makes sure each meal meets the exacting standards of a fine dining establishment.
  • Executive Chef: Executive chefs oversee the kitchen as a whole, including scheduling, menu planning, ordering, and budgeting. Executive chefs working in hotels or restaurant chains may be in charge of several kitchens.
  • Chef/Owner: A chef/owner is a chef who opens his or her own restaurant after acquiring years of experience and culinary expertise. In this role, the chef must oversee budgeting and restaurant operations in addition to food preparation.
  • Personal Chef: Personal chefs prepare meals for a single client, often a wealthy individual or family. Personal chefs create menus based on the client's preferences and are responsible for ordering groceries, cleaning the kitchen, and preparing and serving food.
  • Master Chef: Master chefs are certified chefs who have reached the peak of culinary experience. To become a master chef, fine dining chefs must pass a rigorous eight day testing period and demonstrate mastery of culinary techniques and theories.

The work environment of fine dining chefs varies slightly depending on their place of employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately half of all chefs work in full-service restaurants, where the kitchen is often hot, crowded, and noisy. Hot stoves, ovens, knives, and slippery floors create a somewhat hazardous work environment, but accidents (including cuts and burns) are rarely serious.

Fine dining chef training and educational requirements

According to the BLS, chefs working in fine-dining restaurants must have many years of experience and training in a kitchen. By attending a postsecondary culinary arts degree program, you can gain the formal training you need to qualify for entry-level chef positions.

Culinary arts schools offer a variety of on-campus and online degree programs. Depending on your interests, you can choose between certificate, associate degree, and bachelor's degree programs in culinary arts, pastry arts, and restaurant management. While a pastry arts degree may prepare you to work in a patisserie or as a pastry chef, an associate or bachelor's degree in culinary arts more directly relates to a career as a fine dining chef.

Students of culinary arts degree programs spend much of their time in the kitchen learning proper knife and food preparation techniques. In the classroom or online, students of fine dining chef degree programs learn about menu planning, nutrition, purchasing and inventory, portion control, food storage, and public health. To complement students' hands-on experience in the kitchen, many culinary arts degree programs require students to complete an internship in a commercial kitchen.

Though experience is crucial in the restaurant industry, employers also value training. By graduating from an accredited culinary arts degree program, you can prove to employers that you have the technical skills and knowledge needed to excel in the workplace.

Fine dining chef salary and job growth

According to the BLS, over 12 million people worked in food preparation and serving jobs in the U.S. in 2014, and the food service and accommodation industry is expected to grow even more in the next decade. This growth combined with the high turnover rate among restaurant employees means that overall job opportunities for chefs should be decent in the near future. However, fine dining chefs hoping to work in upscale restaurants should expect significant competition.

Salaries for fine dining chefs vary greatly depending on experience, location, and type of establishment. Although the BLS doesn't have salary data for fine dining chefs specifically, the average annual salary for chefs and head cooks in 2014 was $45,880. Chefs who work in fine dining restaurants can expect better salaries, but getting a job and becoming successful in fine dining is no easy task.

Earning a living as a chef requires dedication, perseverance, and passion. If you want to become a fine dining chef, formal training can lay the foundation for a successful, lasting career.

Sources:

  • Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, United States, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
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            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
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            • Received the 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
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            • Culinary Arts program includes the 3-week Farm To Table® Experience, where students gain a direct, in-depth look at where food comes from.
            • Numerous scholarship opportunities and financial aid are available to students who qualify.
            • Accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
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            • Offers career-focused programs in allied health, business, and computer technology, and more.
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            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
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            L'Ecole Culinaire , Saint Louis
            • Offers educational opportunities for the aspiring, career-minded chef.
            • Students are trained by professional chefs and spend the majority of their final term working in the campus restaurant to learn all phases of the culinary industry.
            • St. Louis campus offers new Food Truck Entrepreneurship courses.
            • Has a student-run food truck that tours around St. Louis.
            • All campuses have a public restaurant where food is prepared and served by students.
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