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A Day in the Life of a Chef

By S.G. "The Salty Chef"

Some of the greatest chefs have built careers through hard work, diligence and the love for the a culinary arts. Some will move through with life lessons learned from countless hours of hard work; others will take a different path through formal education at such institutions as the Culinary Institute of America in New York, which for many years has been the industry leader in formal culinary education.

Education and Training

Over the years other institutions have come up with ways to compete and give aspiring chefs an edge. Arizona has an excellent French culinary program at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, where I obtained my education. I was able to not only obtain an American culinary degree, but also an equivalent French degree. I would recommend enrolling in a culinary program that serves multiple training purposes.

Several components go into formal training. A solid understanding of basic and advanced culinary techniques is necessary for anyone who wants to be a chef. An apprenticeship and on-the-job training can also be useful for individuals in the place of formal education, and are a necessary follow-up for all chefs in training. Apprenticeships have been the way of learning for years in other countries. The purpose of formal education is learning the basic food principles, styles of knife cuts and food presentation. This does take time and experience.

Life as a Chef

Life is often hard and long for a chef. Like other professions, cooking has many sides to it. Now more than ever, different types of jobs in the culinary field are available. This can be attributed the media and other outlets shining a light on the industry and getting the public more involved.

A chef can expect to make from around $30,000 a year all the way up to six figures for seasoned chefs with lots of experience and excellent credentials. Reputations and careers are built by customers' recommendations.

Over recent years the culinary field has proven to be about much more than just food. One of the founding fathers of the culinary industry is Auguste Escoffier, who developed the brigade de cuisine system. This system involves everything that a chef must do in the industry. This system describes the importance of each position in the kitchen, such as saucier, poissonnier, rotisseur, grillardin, friturier, entrimetier, garde-manger and boucher.

The Business of Being a Chef

The business of a chef is not only about the food, but good business practices as well. A chef must be able to perform every aspect of the daily operations to truly be proficient. A typical day for a chef can include prep work, menu planning, ordering and purchasing, developing ideas for future specials and menu options, safety standards compliance and more.

The duties of a chef seem to be endless some days. There is much to do and the chef is responsible for 100 percent of the work. Other cooks and the sous chef help out in these duties, but it is up to the head chef to make sure all tasks are done to his specifications.

Often the executive chef handles more of the business side of things rather than the actual preparation of food, and many chefs miss being in the kitchen.

A chef often thinks about lunch or dinner preparation hours before that time even arrives. Taking inventory is another huge part of being a chef. This is necessary to make sure there are enough ingredients to be able to cook off the menu.

Positions in the Kitchen

The executive or head chef is the leader and gives everyone directions. The head chef sets all the standards that must be met day to day. The sous chef is second in command and makes sure the head chef's visions are being met. The sous chef is not only responsible for direct preparation of food, but also carrying out all major duties while the head chef is away. The sous chef also leads the rest of the team to achieve the goals set forth by the head chef.

The prep cooks are the people who get everything ready to be completed and actually cooked. Examples of this include washing and cutting produce, making sauces ahead of time, cutting meat into portions, chopping herbs and setting up the line. Prep cooks often start on the next day's preparation duties as well.

The line cooks are the people who directly help the sous chef and the head chef. The line cooks are set at different stations in order to receive orders that come in and start the cooking preparation of a particular dish or food item that has been ordered.

A Passion for Food

There is a difference between having success and being successful. For me, being a chef was an easy choice because I have a love and passion for food that burns inside me. This passion was just yearning to get out. I did not originally know that this fire and passion existed inside me - I thought this was just a fondness for food. It turned out to be much more. You can't go anywhere now without food being incorporated somehow. When thinking about becoming a chef, you must consider if you have the drive and passion. Being a chef demands these key elements.

People who are passionate and love the culinary field make some of the greatest chefs. This happens to be true in any field and is the recipe for success.

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