How to Become a Chef
One of the best ways to become a chef is to get a quality culinary college education. A real culinary college, such as The Culinary Institute of America, not only provides the extensive hands-on experience necessary to become a highly skilled cook. It is also the place to get the management education and broader knowledge of food, beverage, and hospitality—as well as liberal arts, history, and culture—necessary to become a leader.
What you need to know to be a chef
Chefs do not only need to know how to cook, but the qualifications to become a chef also include how to manage people and—maybe most importantly—be able to earn a profit for their restaurant or company.
The title of “chef” is something that has to be earned. It comes through hard work, knowledge of the culinary craft, and leadership ability. The word comes from the same root as “chief,” and so to become a chef, one must rise through the ranks and come to be the person in charge—the chief—of the kitchen. While there are many wonderful top-notch cooks out there, until they actually run a professional kitchen, they are not considered a chef.
“You don’t have to be a chef to be able to shave a truffle,” says Chef Bruce Mattel, CIA senior associate dean of culinary arts. “But you do need to be a chef to know what a good quality truffle is, to be able to source it properly, and to be able to provide it to the customer as a special experience.”
Is culinary school required?
You might wonder if culinary school is a requirement to become a chef. While there are stories in every field of those who became successful without a college degree (Bill Gates, for example), a college education from a well-respected institution not only gives graduates a leg up on others vying for the same positions, but the connections and networking opportunities at the CIA gets their resumes considered first.
Even when students graduate from the CIA, they are not yet chefs. However, the knowledge they have gleaned, the skills they have acquired, and the people they have met during their college education set them up on the fast track to run a restaurant or other professional kitchen—if that’s the career path they choose—and earn the respect that comes with having “Chef” embroidered on their jacket.