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Detailed Guide for

Chefs and Head Cooks in

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.

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) at online.onetcenter.org

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?


The median wage in 2021 for Chefs and Head Cooks in California is $60,361 annually, or $29.02 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 at www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/data/wages.html Wages do not reflect self-employment.

Hourly Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 at www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/data/wages.html. Wages do not reflect self-employment.


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 much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Chefs and Head Cooks are expected to increase by 16.0 percent, or 3,800 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Chefs and Head Cooks
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation at www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/data/employment-projections.html

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.


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:

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 at www.carocp.org/carocps.html.


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 at www.acinet.org and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" at www.acinet.org/certifications_new/default.aspx and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information at www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/resources/training-and-apprenticeships.html

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.

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, use "Find Employers" on the LaborMarketInfo Web site at http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/aspdotnet/databrowsing/empMain.aspx?menuChoice=emp

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.

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.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification at www.bls.gov/soc/35-1011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network at online.onetcenter.org/
   Chefs and Head Cooks35-1011.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC) at online.onetcenter.org/find/descriptor/browse/Interests/#curERA
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs at nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/cip2000/
   Cooking and Related Culinary Arts, General 120500
   Restaurant, Culinary, and Catering Management/Manager 120504
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs at www.ccccurriculum.info/ (California Community Colleges)
   Culinary Arts130630
   Restaurant and Food Services and Management130710

The California Occupational Guides are a product of:
The California Employment Development Department
Labor Market Information Division

Printed on Friday, December 03, 2021