California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Chefs and Head Cooks in California

May also be called: Executive Chefs; Pastry Chefs, and Sous Chefs.

Specialties within this occupation include: Research Chefs and Supermarket Chefs.

What Would I Do?

Chefs and Head Cooks plan and supervise the food preparation and cooking activities of multiple kitchens or restaurants in large establishments such as restaurant chains, hospitals, ships, hotels, resorts, or institutions. They are often called Executive Chefs. In large establishments, a Chef de Cuisine works under the Executive Chef and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of one kitchen. In smaller establishments Chefs cook in addition to their planning and ordering duties. Chefs use commercial kitchen equipment: pots, pans, utensils, grills, slicers, grinders, blenders, broilers, ovens, and knives. Chefs generally own their knives which they purchase during training. Sous Chefs supervise at least two cooks at a cooking station or per shift. Chefs may be identified by their specialty in the kitchen, such as: Salad Chef, Pastry Chef, Pantry Chef, and Soup/Sauce Chef.

Research Chefs apply their culinary skills to the development of new food products and equipment. In restaurant chains they team with marketing, finance, food science, and operations staff during development of a new food item. They may also be employed by food growers and processors as well as manufacturers of culinary equipment.

Supermarket Chefs manage kitchen staffs that prepare takeout meals for today’s busy families. They also create and demonstrate recipes that motivate shoppers to purchase ingredients. They may teach cooking classes and oversee catering services offered through the supermarket.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Check the quality of raw and cooked food products to ensure that standards are met.Production and Processing
Monitor sanitation practices to ensure that employees follow standards and regulations.Monitoring
Check the quantity and quality of received products.Quality Control Analysis
Order or requisition food and other supplies needed to ensure efficient operation.Deductive Reasoning
Supervise and coordinate activities of cooks and workers engaged in food preparation.Administration and Management
Inspect supplies, equipment, and work areas to ensure conformance to established standards.Problem Sensitivity
Determine how food should be presented, and create decorative food displays.Customer and Personal Service
Instruct cooks and other workers in the preparation, cooking, garnishing, and presentation of food.Education and Training
Estimate amounts and costs of required supplies, such as food and ingredients.Management of Financial Resources
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Chefs and Head Cooks stand most of their work day in a warm kitchen environment, lifting heavy pots and working with knives and other sharp instruments. This can be strenuous work. They must deal with the pressure of working in close quarters with several people and promptly produce meals that meet quality expectations.

Work hours in restaurants may include early mornings, late evenings, holidays, and weekends. In fine-dining restaurants, many Chefs regularly work 12-hour days because they oversee the delivery of food items early in the day, plan menus, and start preparing menu items that take the greatest amount of preparation time or skill.

Chefs in small restaurants often work a split shift for which they receive extra pay.

Chefs and Head Cooks who work in large hotels or resorts often belong to the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union or the Service Employees International Union.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Chef will appeal to you if you value creativity, enjoy making decisions, and like to lead others in activities involving hands-on skills and projects. Cooks and Chefs need an excellent sense of taste and smell, good health, and enough energy to endure standing for hours at a time. This occupation is good for those who are enterprising, because the work involves starting up and carrying out projects, leading people, and making many decisions. The job also attracts people with realistic interests. Realistic occupations require hands-on projects, using tools and machinery in practical projects.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Chefs and Head Cooks in California is $42,054 annually, or $20.22 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$31,795$42,054$58,033
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Chefs and Head Cooks who work full time in large restaurants, resorts, or government agencies enjoy benefits such as medical, dental, life insurance, and sick leave. Part-time Chefs and Head Cooks generally do not. Some employers provide employees with uniforms and free meals; but, federal law permits employers to deduct these from their employees’ wages.

What is the Job Outlook?

Much of the increase in the employment of Chefs and Head Cooks will come from job growth in more casual dining rather than up-scale full-service restaurants. Dining trends suggest an increase in numbers of meals eaten away from home and a growth in family dining restaurants. This, despite greater limits on meals that can be written off with expense accounts.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Chefs and Head Cooks is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Chefs and Head Cooks are expected to increase by 13.7 percent, or 2,100 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Chefs and Head Cooks
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
15,30017,4002,10013.72,500
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 210 new job openings per year is expected for Chefs and Head Cooks, plus an additional 250 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 450 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Chefs and Head Cooks
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
210250450
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements


A number of Chefs and Cooks start their training in high school or adult vocational programs, while others receive formal training through independent cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, or two- or four-year college degree programs.

Some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training and job-placement programs for Chefs and Cooks. However, many Chefs are trained on the job, receiving real work experience and training from Chef mentors in the restaurants where they work.

Experience

The amount of previous work experience required for Chef applicants tends to rise with the quality, prestige, and costliness of the restaurant. For example, applicants for Chef positions in elite country clubs or high-end steak houses must bring at least five-to-ten years of experience to the job. Their work history must demonstrate an increased knowledge and ability to lead a kitchen staff, plan menus, and produce high quality dishes to please the clientele.

Early Career Planning

Students interested in culinary careers should take the following high school courses:

  • Business math to develop skills for future ownership or management.
  • Culinary arts classes to develop skills in food handling and preparation.
  • Chemistry for a deeper understanding of ingredients and processes.
  • Computer classes to develop ease in using the computer as a tool in menu planning, pricing, and inventory.


Apprenticeship and Work Study Programs

Most formal training programs require some form of apprenticeship, internship, or out-placement program jointly offered by schools and affiliated restaurants. Professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions may also sponsor formal apprenticeship programs in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Culinary training programs exist in many ROP programs across the State and cover subjects such as food safety and sanitation, basic kitchen skills, food production, nutrition, workplace interactions, business math, and cost control. Students train on commercial equipment. Many participate in paid and unpaid internships in the field. In addition to these programs, students may want to check out the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) to find out about high school training programs and scholarships in California. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Certification

The main certifying organization for Chefs and Head Cooks is the American Culinary Federation, Inc. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The majority of California Chefs and Head Cooks work in the hotel and restaurant industries. Full-service restaurants offer the most employment, followed by hotels. Chefs and Head Cooks also work at resorts, in commercial bakeries, cafés, research and development kitchens, small bakeries, assisted living facilities, magazine test kitchens, and in their own businesses.

Finding a Job

Culinary arts students should follow up with contacts made during program internships and use their school’s placement services. Approaching employers directly remains one of the most effective job search methods.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Chefs and Head Cooks.

  • Assisted Living Facilities
  • Clubs
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Resorts
  • Restaurants
  • Retirement & Life Care Communities
  • Universities and Colleges

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Some Chefs promote to Executive Chef or food service manager in large or more elegant hotels, clubs, or restaurants. Others go into business as caterers or personal chefs, or open their own restaurant. A few teach at or run culinary training programs.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Chefs and Head Cooks with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Cooks, Fast FoodProfile
Cooks, Private HouseholdGuide
Cooks, RestaurantGuide
Dietetic TechniciansGuide
First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation and Serving WorkersGuide
Food Service ManagersGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification35-1011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Chefs and Head Cooks35-1011.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ERA
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Cooking and Related Culinary Arts, General 120500
   Restaurant, Culinary, and Catering Management/Manager 120504
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Culinary Arts130630
   Restaurant and Food Services and Management130710