What Is a Chef?
The word “chef” comes from the term “chef de cuisine”, the director or head of a kitchen.
Chefs plan menus, manage staff, and produce excellent food for their patrons in a restaurant, hotel, or resort.
There are many types of chefs, each with a specific name, responsibilities, and skills.
History and Evolution of Chefs
The traditional kitchen structure- a chef with a team of culinary assistants- traces its roots to traveling armies in the 14th century. After the conflicts ended, the chefs were hired by royalty and nobility to work in castles.
They formed trade guilds and began wearing uniforms. The French Revolution brought social upheaval and led to the opening of restaurants and cafés in the 19th century.
Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), known as “King of Chefs, Chef of Kings”, created the modern kitchen brigade structure. He published Le Guide Cullinaire, still a highly influential book in the culinary industry.
Types and Names of Chefs
There are numerous types and names of chefs working at restaurants, hotels, and resorts, each with specific duties.
The leader of a kitchen’s staff is an executive chef, head chef, or chef de cuisine. They oversee kitchen procedures, purchases food and supplies, maintain inventory, and train new employees.
A sous chef is the second-highest-ranking employee in a kitchen, cooperating with and reporting to the executive chef.
There are many different types of chefs de partie, line cooks, or stations chefs, that work in kitchens. This includes sauce chefs, pastry chefs, roast chefs, and fish chefs.
A highly professional kitchen employs many of these chefs and ensures they are working in unison to provide an outstanding dining experience.
The modern chef’s uniform closely resembles the original sketch created by Marie-Antoine Carême in 1822. Each article of clothing has a specific purpose and symbolism.
A chef’s hat, called a “toque blanche”, shows how much experience that particular chef has in the kitchen by its height. The pleats in the hat show the number of skills of techniques they know.
The white double-breasted coat represents authority and influence and symbolizes cleanliness. It deflects heat and is also reversible, allowing a chef to stay cool and hide stains.
Black or white houndstooth patterned pants hide stains easily. The waist usually has a drawstring or elastic and includes pockets.
Chefs wear an apron around their waists to protect their legs from hot spills. They are usually white, black, or striped to match the rest of the uniform.
Executive Chef: Job Description, Responsibilities, Salary
What is an Executive Chef? It's the commander of the kitchen, managing the preparation and production of meals and overseeing all staff activity.
Their duties include overseeing all food production, following financial budgets, and scheduling staff. They also follow and enforce safety and sanitation regulations.
Typical responsibilities may include:
- Creating and updating menus.
- Selecting the key ingredients for the dishes on the menu.
- Staff hiring, management, and problem-solving.
- Administrative duties.
- Monitoring kitchen equipment purchases and repairs.
Creativity and Collaboration
The executive chef might offer input on the design of the restaurant, including the range of cuisine offered and item pricing.
A restaurant or hotel might host banquets and parties that need specific menus. Executive chefs create them with assistance from the restaurant manager, banquet manager, and sales managers. They order from vendors to keep their dry storage, refrigerators, and freezers stocked.
They also arrange any repairs on equipment or machinery in the kitchen to allow for smooth processes of cooking, food preservation, and storage.
Executive Chefs Worldwide
The White House
The White House hires a chef to manage planning and preparation of meals for the President of the United States and First Family. Cristeta Comerford, currently in the role, also oversees private meals and official state functions at the White House.
At age 58, has been working at the White House since 2005. She was born in the Philippines and was the first woman and person of Asian descent hired for the prestigious position.
Luxury Hotels and Resorts
Luxury hotels and resorts also employ executive chefs. Famous examples are the prestigious Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles and The MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
The island of Bali is famous for its collection of executive chefs, including Agung Ardiawan at St. Regis Bali Resort, and Degan Septoadji Suprijadi, owner of Café Degan. The Bahamas, Cancun, Hawaii, Dubai, and Singapore are also popular places for chefs to find work abroad.
Some very successful executive chefs become restaurateurs, including Alain Ducasse. He currently holds 16 Michelin stars and owns a global empire with almost 40 restaurants.
Most executive chefs do not become wealthy and famous, but it is possible to earn a good salary working at many restaurants and hotels. According to Indeed, the average salary for an Executive or Head Chef in the United States is $65,958.
In some locations, the average salary increases significantly, such as in New York ($91,957), Los Angeles ($82,640), ski resorts, and casinos.
An executive chef can earn a Food Handler Certification, which will further increase their salary. After 10 years of experience, the average salary may further increase to $72,507.
Some work abroad and can increase their earnings while traveling the world. Australia pays an average annual salary of $78,104. Switzerland ranks second at $72,904, and Iceland is third at $70,000 per year.
You need at least a high school diploma or equivalent to start work in a kitchen.
Many choose to earn a culinary arts degree or diploma. Others begin as an apprentice in a professional kitchen to learn basics of cooking.
It usually takes several years of experience as a line cook to earn a promotion to sous chef. After this, you can earn a promotion to become the leader in the kitchen.
There are many opportunities to have a successful career, whether you choose to work in your hometown or abroad. But it requires dedication, knowledge, and many years of hard work to get there.
Sous Chef: Job Description, Responsibilities, Salary
A sous chef cooperates with an executive chef to manage food preparation for restaurants and hotels. They also help with menu planning, monitoring inventory, and supervising kitchen staff.
They attend meetings alongside the executive chef in larger restaurants and hotels.
Exact responsibilities vary according to the size of the restaurant or hotel. Daily responsibilities may include:
- Cooperating with the executive chef to create high-quality dishes.
- Overseeing the kitchen staff when the executive chef is absent.
- Planning the menus for special occasions in restaurants and hotels.
- Following safety and sanitation standards.
Working with the Executive Chef
Sous chefs perform some of the usual duties of the executive chef when required. This usually occurs when the executive chef is absent from the kitchen.
The mentor/apprentice relationship between the top chefs and their assistants adds value to the position. Famous culinary chefs achieved their position of recognition by working alongside chefs who taught them everything they know.
Many kitchens have long daily hours of operation, including weekends and holidays. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and other hospitality outlets serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This means the sous chef works long hours, often covering the hours when the executive chef is not present.
Promotion and Success
Many chefs who own restaurant empires started as line cooks. They worked hard, learned along the way, and earned promotions to the top.
Chefs like Gordon Ramsey, Alain Ducasse, and Wolfgang Puck started in restaurants but have become world-famous for their television shows, and business ventures.
Another chef, Marcus Samuelsson, arrived in the United States from Sweden with only $300 but began working in restaurants as a teenager. He became a sous chef at the prestigious Swedish restaurant Aquavit in New York City. Now, he’s the owner of Red Rooster in New York City and a world-famous chef.
As of December 2021, the average salary for a sous chef in the United States is $50,614 per year. Factors that influence earnings include:
- Specific job responsibilities
- Type of culinary establishment
- Region of the country
Location, Location, Location
Depending on where you work, salary varies widely. In Los Angeles, the average yearly pay is $60,738 while New York restaurants and hotels pay $58,848.
The more densely populated urban areas in the Northeast and West Coast tend to pay chefs higher salaries.
However, in Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, and New Mexico, sous chefs might earn 25% less than the national average.
Most chefs earn at least a high school diploma or equivalent, while others attend a culinary school. They earn associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, certificates, or diplomas before beginning their careers.
Climbing the Kitchen Ladder
Their first job in a professional kitchen is usually as a line cook, working long hours and several years to prove their skills. Then, some cooks advance from within their restaurant, while others search elsewhere for promotion.
It takes hard work and long hours to achieve the title of sous chef.
Chef de Partie: Job Description, Responsibilities, Salary
A chef de partie, line cook, or station chef, is responsible for a particular area of food production in a restaurant.
They manage a section of the kitchen- desserts, fish, meat, sauces, or vegetables. Some larger restaurants and hotels hire several chefs de partie to oversee the various stations in the kitchen.
They’re responsible for a specific section of the kitchen and report to the sous chef and executive chef. The various responsibilities of the job include:
- Creating high-quality dishes within their section.
- Assisting the executive chef and sous chef to develop dishes.
- Following health and safety practices.
- Monitoring portion control and inventory.
- Operating and maintaining equipment and reporting any issues.
An Important Role
They have an important role in the kitchen, cooking the food that is served directly to customers. What appears on a customer’s plate might arrive directly from the chef de partie.
Each chef prepares food at a different station, with different chefs for each food category. There may be a pastry chef, sauce chef, and vegetable chef- each with the title of chef de partie.
Knowledge of all procedures and standards for food production, receiving, storage, and sanitation are important. They must be familiar with all items on the menu and their presentation standards.
More specific titles include the following:
- A butcher chef, or boucher, prepares meat and poultry before they are delivered to their respective stations.
- Fish chefs, or poissonniers, are responsible for preparing fish dishes. They may also butcher the fish and craft the appropriate sauces.
- A fry chef, or friturier, specializes in the production of fried items on the menu.
- A grill chef, or grillardin, oversees the preparation of all dishes that require grilling.
- Pantry chefs, or garde-mangers, prepare cold dishes, including salads and pâtés.
- A pastry chef, or patissier, handles baked goods, desserts, and pastries.
- A roast chef, or rotisseur, prepares roasted meats and the appropriate sauces.
- A sauté chef, sauce chef, or saucier, is responsible for sautéing dishes and creating sauces that accompany other dishes.
- A vegetable chef, or entremetier, produces vegetables and soups. More specifically, a potager prepares soups while a legumier makes dishes with vegetables.
Another important responsibility is training and supervising commis chefs, also known as junior chefs. They have just completed culinary school and are starting their careers in the kitchen.
Commis chefs learn about the kitchen environment and gain knowledge and skills from the more experienced chefs.
A chef de partie can expect to earn anywhere between $29,279 and $43,879 per year. There is a wide salary range because the amount paid depends on exact duties and where the position is located.
It's possible to find work in many restaurants and hotels. Resorts, cruise ships, and casinos also seek chefs de partie for their kitchens.
The first step on the path is learning how to cook. Many chefs attend culinary school to gain experience and learn from experienced chefs. Not all positions require a degree, but candidates must demonstrate their cooking skills and knowledge.
Chefs must have good skills to succeed in a busy kitchen. A good chef de partie must multitask and prioritize needs as requests come quickly from the restaurant.
It's also vital to communicate effectively with other team members and remain calm under stress. Perfecting these skills, along with cooking techniques, can eventually earn a promotion to sous chef or executive chef.
Pastry Chef: Job Description, Responsibilities, Salary
Before describing a pastry chef's job and responsibilities, let’s talk about the difference between pastry and a pastry.
Pastry is a dough or paste consisting mostly of flour, shortening, and water. It is baked and often used for the crust of pies and tarts.
In the singular countable form, a pastry is a baked product. It's made from ingredients such as butter, eggs, flour, milk, shortening, sugar, and baking powder.
Types of Pastries
There are five basic categories of pastries:
- Shortcrust pastry, sweet and sturdy, similar to shortbread cookie dough, and used as the base dough of tarts.
- Filo pastry, made in thin sheet and used as casing for many Balkan and Middle Eastern pastries.
- Choux pastry has a thick and sticky texture, creating a crispy outer shell and hollow exterior for fillings.
- Flaky pastry needs gentle hand work and tiny chunks of butter to produce flaky dough for sweet and savory pastries.
- Puff pastry, popular with pastry chefs, has a crisp, delicate, and layered finish often used for pie crusts.
Furthermore, there are two main types of pastries:
- Laminated- fat is repeatedly folded into the dough during preparation (ex. Croissants, Danish, puff pastries).
- Non-laminated- fat is cut or rubbed into the flour (ex. Pie crust, tart crust).
Pastry chefs from around the world bake pastries to satisfy their customers. Croissants (France), cannolis (Italy), baklava (Greece), strudel (Germany), and Danishes (Denmark) are examples of popular international pastries.
Cinnamon rolls, bear claws, macarons, tarts, scones, cream puffs, éclairs, pie, and sticky buns are other common pastries enjoyed in the United States.
A pastry chef, or dessert chef, prepares many types of desserts, including cakes, cookies, pies, and other delicious items. A pastry chef reports to the executive chef or sous chef.
Operation of ovens and other machinery is required. They use mathematical knowledge to measure ingredients and chemistry to bake their pastries under the right conditions.
They also need managerial skills, especially if they own bakeries and supervise a large staff.
Time management skills are useful for preparing their items and handling orders from customers. It’s important to make enough pastries to meet demand on any given day.
The specific tasks depend on the job location, whether a kitchen in a hotel or a small bakery. In general, they are responsible for stocking ingredients, developing recipes, and managing the pastry station or department.
They are also required to plan production and create seasonal offerings. It's important to demonstrate creativity by producing new desserts for the menu to keep customers interested.
Many restaurants, hotels, and resorts hire pastry chefs to bake delicious desserts for their patrons and special events. Pastry chefs also work in bakeries, including supermarkets with bakery departments, and for caterers.
The hours required and skills needed vary depending on the position and the size of the team. They commonly work overnight or very early morning hours to prepare bread and pastries for sale when shops and restaurants open in the morning.
Some pastry chefs specialize in one area of pastry-making, while others create a variety of baked goods.
If a pastry chef owns a bakery, they will sell cakes, cookies, and pies or focus on one type of pastry. If a chef owns an artisan craft shop, they might specialize in different kinds of bread.
Others may produce a variety of bread and sweets to give their customers a larger selection of pastries.
As of December 2021, the average salary for a pastry chef in the United States stands at $39,540 or $19/hour. Most earn somewhere between $13.94/hr (25th percentile) and $23.56/hr (75th percentile).
As with other chef positions, the salary varies widely, depending on location, skill level, and experience.
Many open their own bakeries or smaller businesses and supply small shops or caterers with pastries.
Some pastry chefs who are currently unemployed due to the pandemic are working from home to provide pastries to interested buyers. These opportunities are providing good income for pastry chefs who do what they love for a living.
There are many areas of specialization, from baking bread to making candy. Many aspiring pastry chefs focus on one area of specialization.
Learn some recipes and create pastries at home while also reading books and watching cooking shows. Ask a friend to taste your creations and provide feedback for improving your pastries.
If your high school offers a home economics class, sign up for it to learn some basics about baking and cooking. After you earn your high school degree, you will have the following options to consider:
- Complete a certification program, which usually lasts one year and focuses on entry-level training and providing essential skills.
- Attend a culinary school to earn an associate degree, which takes two years and provides you with technical skills and education.
- Apply to a university and earn a bachelor's degree, which allows you to work part-time at a bakery or supermarket.
After finishing one of these programs, apply to work in a kitchen to gain experience and practical skills. Some people begin working in a kitchen after graduating from high school, but extra education and certifications will pay off in the long run.