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The experience of a fast-paced job can be very exciting. A career as an executive chef is exactly that. In order to become a chef in a high-class restaurant, you must possess a relevant education, proper training, and be willing to work very hard. With these prerequisites accomplished, obtaining a position as a chef in a fine establishment is not difficult and is very rewarding. Let s first take a look at the educational requirements that are necessary.

Nearly all accomplished chefs that begin their career in the United States have received an Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) degree in culinary arts. The two most widely recognized educational institutions in America are the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York and St. Helena, California, and the California Cooking Academy (CCA) in San Francisco, California (Thomas). Although these are the two most prestigious culinary schools in America, any school that is certified by the Accrediting Committee of the American Culinary Foundation will provide an adequate education. The AOS degree in Culinary Arts is an intensive two-year program. Topics covered include breads, appetizers, soups, salads, sauces, vegetables, entrees, pastries, and desserts. A special emphasis is placed on the identification, preparation, portioning, and presentation of meat, poultry, and seafood. Further education in this field would include an additional one-year program resulting in a Baking and Pastries Certificate, but is not necessary (Thomas). Although education is crucial, proper training is even more important.

Proper training of a chef usually consists of an internship or apprenticeship for a minimum of two years. During this time, the aspiring chef will work in all areas of the kitchen, mastering all aspects of food preparation. The stations that are typically covered are pantry, desserts, line back, and management. The pantry is the area where salads, bread, and appetizers area prepared. Besides bread baking and some grilling, little cooking actually occurs here. Most of the work lies in assembling the dishes for presentation. Desserts are usually the next station that the intern or apprentice moves on to. More time is spent here due to the complexity of the job. Cooks are taught how to create, create, and present their desserts. Cakes, pies, pastries, custards, and ice creams are just some of the items that a chef will learn about here. The line or galley is where a majority of the entrees are prepared. On the line, a student will learn how to cook quickly, efficiency, and master the recipes. In most cases, this is where the greatest amount of time will be spent. The back refers to the back of the kitchen, where the work consists of food preparation for the line and pantry. Cleaning, cutting, and portioning of vegetables, meat, and seafood occur in the back. Preparation of items such as soups, sauces, pasta dough, and bread dough also take place in the back. After the prospective chef has spent a given amount of time at each station (usually three to six months), they learn how to manage the kitchen as a whole. Food cost analysis, job safety, menu conception, employee management, ordering, and general logistics are learned during this time (Plazola). Now that a future chef has been taught nearly everything they need to know in order to succeed, they must be willing to work very hard.

As a new chef, Alfredo Plazola states that one should expect to work fourteen to sixteen hour days for six days a week, and sometimes- even more for the first few months. During this time, employees are taught the recipes that have been chosen to appear on the menu, to implement the techniques that are to be employed in the kitchen, and sous chefs are appointed or hired. Not only is the workday long, but the work itself is grueling as well. Nearly the entire day is spent walking or standing. The physical demands on the body are tremendous, especially at the line or pantry where temperatures can easily rise past 110 degrees, due to the operation of stoves and ovens (Soeder). The job is mentally taxing as well. Stressful situations are frequent, and improvisation is common mainly because there is no room for mistakes (Michaelides). Although the work is difficult, the rewards are well worth it.

The rewards are not only monetary, but personally gratifying as well. The salary of a qualified sous chef in a fine restaurant usually starts around $50,000 per year, while an executive chef can expect to start upwards of $60,000 per year ( Money Matters ). Of course, this figure depends on the area of the country, the experience of the chef, as well as varying bonus plans. Salaries for a chef employed in a family style chain restaurant usually start around $36,000 per year, plus bonuses based on the performance of the restaurant. Although the pay is adequate, nearly all chefs choose the occupation out of interest or enjoyment. The satisfaction of knowing that 300 people that you have cooked for in a given evening enjoyed the meal is a reward that has no monetary value (Michaelides).

As you can see, with a proper education, training, and hard work, a career as a chef can be an extremely rewarding experience. The preparation of food is not only a job that satisfies peoples hunger, it is also an art, and the chefs are the artists.


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