What is an executive chef

An executive chef is the highest-ranking chef in a professional kitchen, responsible for overseeing all aspects of food preparation, menu planning, and kitchen management in a restaurant, hotel, or other culinary establishment. When an executive chef says jump, you ask how high–at least in the kitchen.

If it happens in the kitchen, the executive chef is in charge of it. From developing a menu to food prep to quality control, you’ll need to take the lead and set expectations for the rest of the staff. Depending on the size of your kitchen, you may employ a sous chef to carry out your orders while you concentrate on the managerial aspects of the operation.

It’s more than just cooking if you are an executive chef. Understanding the business side of things is just as important as the creative side of the culinary arts. Knowing the price of the food you’re buying is just as important as what you do to the food once you get it.

You play a pivotal role in defining the identity of your establishment and making sure that it operates efficiently and delivers high-quality dining experiences. You will also work with front-of-house staff to ensure there’s an overall vibe to the restaurant. As an executive chef, you’ve reached the top of the culinary ladder.

What does an executive chef do

An executive chef is in charge of almost all kitchen responsibilities within a culinary establishment, delivering high-quality food and dining experiences while making sure everything runs smoothly behind the kitchen doors. And, really, you can’t have one without the other–so it’s up to you as an executive chef to make that happen.

When it comes to the cuisine of your kitchen, you’re in charge of creating a menu, whether it’s traditional fare that changes with the seasons or new recipes that experiment with different flavor combinations. You’ll choose the ingredients, decide how they are prepped, and establish storage processes and cleaning practices that adhere to all codes and regulations to keep your staff and customers safe.

There are also managerial aspects you must take charge of as an executive chef. You’ll handle hiring, training, and scheduling as well as managing food inventory and maintaining relationships with suppliers. This includes minimizing waste and controlling food costs–the kitchen’s budget, controlling expenses, and maximizing profitability without compromising quality is an important aspect of their role.

Depending on the size of the operation, you may employ a sous chef–a second in command–to carry out some of your orders. But it will be up to you to establish protocols in the kitchen and make sure they are followed through. It is your kitchen after all.

How do you become an executive chef?

While there are a few different ways of becoming a professional cook, there’s really only one way to become an executive chef: a lot of experience and skills to match. Executive chefs are made from years in the kitchen, doing the work to gain the knowledge they need to run their own kitchens.

Of course, there are foundational skills you’ll need to begin that journey, starting with how you use cutlery, understanding flavor combinations, and the different methods for preparing and cooking foods. You can get these schools either in school, through on-the-job training, or by self-study.

Even with formal training, chances are you’ll still start in an entry-level position and work your way up through the kitchen hierarchy to get the practical experience you’ll need to become an executive chef. The CASA Gourmet Chef Program gives you both: an education while you get real-world experience in a professional kitchen.

Many of our students find work in the kitchens they trained in or find work in other kitchens based on good word of mouth. Learning how to handle yourself in the kitchen, how to work with others, and what it takes to run a kitchen smoothly are all valuable skills. But to become an executive chef, you’ll need to put in the time.

Additional Information

The short answer is no, a degree isn’t an absolute requirement if you want to become a chef. But without some form of education or formal training, the path to becoming an executive chef will take a little bit longer. That being said, skill and experience are the most important traits of an executive chef, but an education can help you build a foundation.

Put it like this: nobody finishes a four-year university with a degree in hand and walks right into an executive chef position. You’ll still need to prove what you can do before being entrusted with the keys to the kingdom, and that will only come with practical experience. So why spend four years or more at a university when experience is so much more important?

This is why the CASA Gourmet Chef Program was created, to give aspiring chefs the building blocks they need for their career while giving them experience in a professional kitchen. You are given one-on-one guidance from your mentor from within their kitchen, learning technical and creative skills in an immersive environment.

At the end of the program, and if you’ve proven yourself, you’ll be placed in a working restaurant for 100 hours to put what you’ve learned into practice. You’ll develop communication skills while getting hands-on experience preparing food for actual paying customers. And you’ll do it all in about six months instead of years.

The skills needed to be an executive chef are developed through years of experience, both when it comes to how food is prepared and how a kitchen operates. An executive chef has a well-rounded and robust skillset that requires a deft hand with a knife as well as a sharp mind for the business side of the house.

You must have a deep understanding of various cooking techniques, cuisines, and ingredients, and the ability to create unique and innovative dishes. You’ll develop menus and special dishes, so creativity is essential to keep the culinary offerings fresh and appealing for your customers. Following food safety regulations and ensuring the kitchen’s cleanliness and sanitation are non-negotiables.

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential for coordinating the kitchen team, interacting with other departments (such as front-of-house staff), and conveying your culinary vision to the staff. You need to be a strong leader, managing, motivating, coordinating, and correcting your staff.

Then there are the business skills needed to keep a kitchen open. A good understanding of budgeting (food, utilities, equipment service, etc.), cost control, and kitchen finances is essential while you manage food costs and make cost-effective decisions for optimum profitability. An executive chef demands a well-rounded skill set that needs to be developed throughout your career.

The best way to learn how to be an executive chef is to obtain the necessary skills to work in a kitchen, get practical experience in as many kitchen roles as possible, and learn from those who are already doing the job. It takes a combination of education, experience, and determination to take the top spot at a restaurant.

Universities can give you those foundational skills but lack those real-world skills that are so important for an executive chef. It may also be helpful to take classes about budgeting and other managerial skills as well. Those aspects are just as important as cooking itself if you want to keep the ovens on.

Rolling up your sleeves and getting to work is perhaps the best way to learn the ropes in a kitchen and find out exactly what needs to be done to be an executive chef. This is where you will work on your communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills. You’ll also need to make time to learn on your own, try new flavor combinations, or attend conferences to learn about new techniques or equipment.

While there is no one way to learn how to become an executive chef, time is probably the best teacher of all. You’ll need to pay your dues, absorb everything you can, and still take the time to do some independent learning. Even trying out a new restaurant can give you something to think about as you make your way up the kitchen hierarchy.

There are a few ways to look at this question depending on the route you take to becoming an executive chef. If you decide to go to university, you could be spending four years or more before you actually begin your career in a working kitchen. If you decide to take the first entry-level position you can find, you’ll be in the industry sooner but may experience more ups and downs.

Generally speaking, it can take anywhere from five to 15 years to become an executive chef. You may be able to move up the ranks faster at a smaller establishment without as many responsibilities–or if you’re incredibly gifted–while larger, high end restaurants may require more experience.

It’s important to note that becoming an executive chef is not solely about the number of years it takes but also about the skills, knowledge, leadership abilities, and experience you accumulate along the way. Your dedication, networking efforts, and the culinary opportunities you encounter can influence the timeline as well.

It often involves years of hard work and continuous learning to reach the executive chef position. In some cases, it may require staying in a certain establishment for many years to either build up that goodwill with the owner or you may need to move elsewhere if there is already an ensconced executive chef in place.

Although they have many similar skills, the work environments couldn’t be more different between an executive chef and a personal chef. They have different responsibilities, scopes of work, and clientele, and must cater their work around those different audiences. In most cases, an executive chef will have a team for support while a personal chef is a solitary position.

The work setting couldn’t be any different–the executive chef works in a professional kitchen, overseeing a staff that serves hundreds of customers a day. Menus must be diverse but also inclusive to serve a variety of tastes. Along with that creativity comes the managerial side of the kitchen, keeping an eye on costs and working with different schedules and crewmembers.

A personal chef, on the other hand, focuses their work on a single client or family. They will have a much more intimate knowledge of their clients and can create food specifically for those tastes or dietary requirements. They won’t have quite the space or equipment you may see in a commercial kitchen, but they also don’t have to worry about those extra costs.

Executive chefs will work long, hectic hours while personal chefs will be more flexible with their schedules. However, if an executive chef disappoints one customer, it’s not the end of the world. If a personal chef disappoints their client, they may be looking for another job.

An executive chef has used any and all equipment available as they worked their way up the pecking order in the kitchen. While they worked from station to station, they familiarized themselves with the tools needed to get the job done. As such, anything you find in the kitchen–from cheese graters and rolling pins to industrial grills and stand-up mixers belongs in an executive chef’s toolbox.

Generally speaking, all chefs will have their set of personal knives, as well as other utensils like slotted spoons, ladles, tongs, and more. They should have a variety of pots, pans, and baking sheets in different sizes and materials at their disposal as well. Countertop appliances such as blenders and mixers are the norm in any kitchen.

Then, of course, you’ll have the bigger equipment, the grills, ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and other major appliances. On the managerial side of things, they should become adept at software that manages inventory, costs, scheduling, and deliveries so the information can be easily retrieved and analyzed. Having an actual toolbox with actual tools is a good idea, too, for spot equipment fixes.

Now, will an executive chef use all of the above (and more) in their day-to-day activities? Probably not–they will have a crew underneath them that do some of the heavy lifting. But they need to have a working knowledge of everything in the kitchen so they can step into any role at any time.

You’ve finally made it to the top of the culinary world: an executive chef! So you probably want to know how much dough you’ll be raking in. However, the salary of an executive chef can vary significantly depending on several factors that go beyond your skill level. And if you manage to grab a gig on TV, there’s no telling how much you can make.

The location, type, and size of the restaurant will all come into play when figuring out a salary for an executive chef–all of which are largely out of your control. Although you do get to decide where you work, a job is a job. You’ll make more in a high-end restaurant in Manhattan than you would at a smaller bistro in Middle America.

Generally speaking, though, rookie executive chefs can expect to make around $50,000 a year in smaller establishments or less competitive markets. As you gain more experience and cultivate a record of success, you may be able to inch towards $90,000 or even six figures. As an experienced executive chef with several successful restaurants in your past, you can blow past $100,000 and maybe even dabble in product lines or those coveted TV appearances (if you so wish) for even more money.

It’s important to note that these salary ranges are approximate and can vary based on individual circumstances. Additionally, the culinary industry is dynamic, and economic conditions can change over time, impacting salary at all levels. However, as the restaurant business rebounds from the pandemic, chef positions are expected to rise at a rate higher than the averages of other industries.

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CASA Culinary School Reviews

Learning how restaurant kitchen works is sometimes good but can be busy, like super busy. I’ve learned as much as I could from my mentor and working in the kitchen of Carnivale Chicago, even though I actually do not work there because I was a CASA student. Working with my academic facilitator is very good and very helpful when it comes to tutoring sessions. It is a shame though that CASA Chicago school is not here anymore.

~ Vince Morales

I chose CASA because of the teachers. I felt like I could learn a lot from them, about their careers and their different techniques, and it would bring out the best in me. Also, CASA’s program is accelerated, so you’re learning at a quicker rate, and able to start your cooking career sooner. Location-wise, the restaurant that CASA placed me in was ideal—not only was it a great learning environment, but it was also near my home.

~ Brian Patterson

A gourmet meal

I truly feel that I made the best choice by attending CASA. Because of the program’s ties to the best dining establishments, I have been able to learn from the best in the business. From the program, I was able to apprentice at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Because of the opportunity, I was also offered a job at this Michelin-starred restaurant soon after. None of this would have been possible without CASA. This revolutionary program gave me a solid foundation that is already leading to a very bright culinary future.

~ Ashley Torrijos

Braised lamb

CASA has allowed me to learn more about restaurant operations by connecting me with Melisse, one of the best restaurants in Southern California. The time I spent there has allowed me to grow as a chef, and the experience is invaluable for my future culinary career.

~ Frank Ahn

Raw steak and shrimp on plate prepped for cooking

CASA is more than helping me live out my dreams. You’re doing the actual work and the transition right into the restaurant business is so smooth. There are no shocks when you go out into the real world.

~ Ron Dettman


When I decided to switch careers, I spoke with CASA’s Chef Gilligan who asked me what kind of cooking I wanted to do and the direction I wanted to go. He paired me up with two different chefs who helped me achieve success. I want to create something that other people will enjoy, and when I look out of the kitchen doors and see people smiling and eating the food that I’ve made, that makes me really happy. Also, the chefs I worked with gave me a lot of flexibility with my work schedule.

~ Jayson Larson

Thai food restaurant kitchen in action

I love my job and my career path I chose and I want to give a BIG THANKS to you and the whole school for changing my life and letting me achieve what I want to do at a young age. It has been a great time with Walter and I have a great relationship with him. I think he will be someone I will stay in contact with my whole life! He has taught me so much from basic skills to working on the line and how to manage my time and even insight on things to think about when opening a restaurant. The only thing I can think to say is I LOVE CASA!

~ Joey Mendes

What is good about CASA is that you get practical experience. I have enjoyed my time at Scratch Bar + Restaurant because Chef DJ is supportive, encouraging, and always there to answer a question. You learn the flow and protocol of a restaurant environment so that you’re prepared to work as soon as you graduate.

~ Mouhssine Elguerch

Tomato salad

My name is Jaylen Jones and my mentor was Colin. He was a great mentor because of his talent. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. Being in the restaurant and learning how it works, is an experience that no classroom can give you. It opened up my eyes to a lot of different recipes and discovering flavors that I never knew existed. That is what I’m most grateful for. You opened my eyes to a bigger world of food.

Learn how to become a professional Chef in Illinois.

~ Jaylen Jones

Flame roasting vegetables on a grill

My experience with CASA has been absolutely amazing! My mentor has been extremely helpful and has helped me stay on track with my courses and further pursue my culinary dreams! They placed me with an outstanding mentor Chef Jordan Chen at Bistro VG in Roswell, Georgia. I have learned so many things since being there, I truly believe it is all due to me being able to actually have hands-on experience. I would recommend this school to everyone. My career expectations have never been more hopeful!

~ Spencer Patton

Pexels Elevate plating on cuts of logs with wild mushrooms

Training at Scratch Bar and Kitchen has been a great experience for me because of the way the restaurant is so unique in creating every item from scratch. I was able to learn to create foods from sauces and salads to proteins and starches all from the beginning of the process. The chefs were all extremely knowledgeable and willing to teach me about their skills and experiences. I would recommend future students to learn at this restaurant!

~ Rachel Ulansey

Chef instructing a student on plating

This program is outlining a good foundation of understanding what a culinary career fully entails and providing me with information that will make me familiar once I start my culinary career.

~ Crobin McWhirt – Spotsylvania, Virginia

I just graduated CASA yesterday, and am now a bona fide Gourmet Chef. CASA provided the best culinary education imaginable, safely, even during a pandemic. I am ever so grateful to have been mentored by elite chefs in Los Angeles before the Government shut down all restaurant activity. The best part was the interactions I had with my education facilitator Joslyn who was sure to gently push me to keep going forward, even when I wanted to hold back, she was always there to lend encouragement. The price was absolutely perfect for our family, and we were able to pay off tuition before my graduation, and now I am ready to start my new career as a Chef. I would recommend this school to anyone who is looking to become a Chef.

~ Karen Shaver

Two steaks in a cast iron pan

CASA was very amazing to me, they paired me up with a great mentor during these hard covid times, and eventually got a job at Pez Cantina. I’m very excited for the next chapter in my life.

~ Jessica Vega

Chef prepping a meat and vegetables

“Everything is going great! I got offered a job at The Ellington where I got my class hours. I’ll be working weekends there. I’m so excited! I love Kristin. She’s such a wonderful person. I’m so glad she took me on and offered me a job. I never knew how fast things could change. It seems like everything is coming together so nicely. I’m so happy I found this program. You guys are awesome thank you so much for this opportunity.

~ Paula Russell

Chef teaching his students on final prep for deserts

“I believe highly in apprenticeship (or externship) and mentorship as I am a result of this teaching environment. I understand a strong theoretical education works for a lot of students, but experience and doing these tasks in a professional kitchen teaches involvement. This style builds confidence in the apprentice to rise from cook status, to sous chef and beyond, through hard work and smart working techniques designed to empower the student to create their own success.”

~ Robert W. Phillips

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