The following information is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chefs and Head Cooks. Please visit the website for a more comprehensive breakdown of the data.


Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served. They direct kitchen staff and handle any food-related concerns.

Job Duties

  • Check the freshness of food and ingredients
  • Supervise and coordinate activities of cooks and other food preparation workers
  • Develop recipes and determine how to present dishes
  • Plan menus and ensure the quality of meals
  • Inspect supplies, equipment, and work areas for cleanliness and functionality
  • Hire, train, and supervise cooks and other food preparation workers
  • Order and maintain an inventory of food and supplies
  • Monitor sanitation practices and follow kitchen safety standards


National Average Annual Pay (2019): $56,310

Top 5 States

1. Hawaiʻi


2. New Jersey


3. Rhode Island


4. Massachusetts


5. Wyoming


Bottom 5 States

50. Idaho


49. Iowa


48. Kansas


47. Nebraska


46. Wisconsin



There are two main ways to gain the skills to become a chef or cook.

The first is to attend a culinary school. Culinary programs can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years. Community colleges can offer associate’s degrees in culinary programs.

The second way is to gain experience and on-the-job training as a cook. You’ll likely start as a line cook and gain experience there as well as learning from the chef and other cooks. It can take years to gain enough experience to be promoted to a chef or head cook position.

Another less common way is to get an apprenticeship.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits many of the culinary schools in the U.S. The site also has information on apprenticeship opportunities as well as certifications. Certification isn’t necessary to become a chef but the ACF can certify various types of chefs such as personal chefs, sous chefs, and executive chefs.

  • Option 1: Culinary School

    Culinary programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools, specialty culinary schools, and some 4-year colleges.

  • Option 2: On-the-Job Training

    This is the most common way chefs and cooks learn their culinary schools. They begin as line cooks and learn from the chefs they cook for.

  • Option 3: Apprenticeship

    This option is far less common, but culinary apprenticeship programs last around 2 years. They have a combination of instruction and on-the-job training.


Business Skills

Executive chefs and chefs who run their own restaurant need to understand the restaurant business. They should know how to budget for supplies, set prices, and manage workers so that the restaurant is profitable.


Chefs and head cooks need to be creative in order to develop and prepare interesting and innovative recipes. They should be able to use various ingredients to create appealing meals for their customers.

Leadership Skills

Chefs and head cooks must have the ability to motivate kitchen staff and develop constructive and cooperative working relationships with them.

Physical Stamina

Chefs and head cooks often work long shifts and sometimes spend entire evenings on their feet, overseeing the preparation and serving of meals.

Sense of Taste & Smell

Chefs and head cooks must have a keen sense of taste and smell in order to inspect food quality and to design meals that their customers will enjoy.

Communication Skills

Chefs must communicate their instructions clearly and effectively to staff so that customers’ orders are prepared correctly.

Time- Management Skills

Chefs and head cooks must efficiently manage their time and the time of their staff. They ensure that meals are prepared correctly and that customers are served on time, especially during busy hours.


Chefs and head cooks need excellent dexterity, including proper knife techniques for cutting, chopping, and dicing.

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