What is a chef

Depending on what kind of chef you are, you have complete control of the kitchen. You are responsible for planning, creating, and overseeing the preparation of meals in various culinary settings, such as restaurants, hotels, catering companies, cruise ships, and more. You may have a hand in how the front of the house operates, meaning the hosts, servers, and even the decor of the restaurant.

You are highly trained in the art of food preparation, cooking, and presentation. You play a central role in the kitchen and are often in charge of managing kitchen staff, developing menus, and ensuring that the food served meets quality and taste standards. A master of the blade, cooking techniques, food preparation, and menu creation all come second nature to a chef.

Along with that creativity comes an eye for detail on the kitchen floor. Both in quality control of the food you’re giving to hungry patrons, but also on the management side of the business. Staffing, scheduling, inventory management, budget, and everything else that goes into the kitchen.

There are various levels of chefs, ranging from line cooks and sous chefs to executive chefs and celebrity chefs, each with different responsibilities and skill levels. Your specific duties as a chef can also vary depending on the type of kitchen you work in, your level of experience, ownership percentages, and more.

What does a chef do

The day-to-day job of a head or executive chef goes well beyond preparing delicious meals for diners, although almost everything they do centers on just that. If you’re a sous chef, you don’t have as many responsibilities, but you will be expected to take orders from the head chef and take that message to the rest of the staff.

So while responsibilities may change slightly from position to position (and restaurant to restaurant), there are some standard tasks that fall to nearly every head chef in the industry. This includes reviewing and updating the menu as needed, considering ingredient availability and seasonality, and creating new dishes or updating existing entrees to keep things fresh for your patrons.

You’ll oversee all food prep activities, including sauces, stocks, and other food building blocks, at least until you’ve reached a level of trust with your crew. You’ll supervise the cooking process, ensuring that the food (and hygiene standards) meet your high standards. This includes plating the food and presentation. You may even need to work the front of the house floor on occasion to meet and greet your customers.

Away from the kitchen floor, you’ll need to calculate the costs of your food and develop prices for the food you serve. Other budgeting considerations include labor, utilities, rent, and other costs such as equipment maintenance or repairs. Chefs must be adaptable, organized, and able to handle the pressures of a busy kitchen while maintaining a commitment to culinary excellence.

How do you become a chef

Becoming an executive chef or head cook often requires much foundational knowledge of cooking methods, knife mastery, food chemistry, and more–but it is still a creative endeavor at its soul. As such, you’ll need a healthy combination of education, training, and lots of practical experience. You’ll also need to put a little bit (or a lot) of yourself into the kitchen.

This means developing your passion for food and experimenting with different foods, cuisines, and cooking methods at home. Start with some standard fare and then let your creativity take over. You may find yourself drawn to one specific type of cuisine but don’t limit yourself. The successful chef is the versatile chef.

Consider attending a culinary school or institute to receive formal culinary education. They can provide a structured curriculum and help you get those needed foundational skills, but they can also require years of enrollment and big student loan debt. Think about educational opportunities that won’t waste your time or money–something exactly like the Chef Apprentice School of the Art.

Many chefs get to where they are by starting at the bottom and working their way up the food chain (so to speak). The practical experience you gain by actually working in a real kitchen is worth more than sitting in a classroom for hours on end. But no matter which route you choose, becoming a chef is a journey that requires dedication, hard work, and a lifelong commitment to learning and refining your culinary skills.

Additional Information

While some professions absolutely require a degree, that just isn’t the case for those looking to pursue a career as a chef. This isn’t to say that some sort of formal education isn’t beneficial–there are some foundational building blocks that are extremely advantageous. But spending years in a classroom or practice kitchen isn’t a necessity.

Many successful chefs have gained their skills through hands-on experience, on-the-job training, and through work with a mentor. The Gourmet Chef Program puts you inside a professional kitchen one-on-one with an experienced chef, where you’ll learn everything you need to start your culinary career in six months.

On top of that, you get real practical experience at the end of the program, getting 100 hours of work in a professional kitchen. This includes time in a real restaurant when it’s open and you’ll be preparing food for real customers. This just can’t be replicated in a classroom.

You can also work your way up through the ranks, starting in an entry-level position, and learn as you work. This may take more time, but you’ll truly learn how a kitchen operates by the time you take the head cook position. You can also learn to cook and develop your culinary skills on your own through cookbooks, online courses, and cooking tutorials. The most important thing you can do is to be a great cook and to get the experience you need to prove yourself.

Although there are several types of chefs (line cook, sous chef, etc.), they all need the same culinary building blocks to be successful. Technical and mechanical skills are often required, along with a lot of creativity depending on the positions. Interpersonal skills and professional traits are also very desirable.

Having a mastery of various cutting techniques, understanding the different methods of cooking, and the ability to prepare a wide variety of foods for a wide variety of cuisines are all necessities. All successful chefs should know different flavor combinations and even how to plate the food for an appealing presentation.

Managerial skills include organization, time management, business acumen, and effective communication. You’ll need to know how to budget for ingredients, labor, and overhead such as equipment maintenance, repair, utilities, and more. Adhering to strict hygiene regulations is not only a requirement, it will keep your patrons from getting sick!

And, oh yes, the creativity part of the job. You’ll often create new dishes or put unique twists on traditional recipes and creativity is essential for developing innovative and appealing menus. The culinary industry is dynamic, and chefs need to adapt to changing trends, ingredients, and dietary preferences. You’ll also need the ability to think on your feet and creatively troubleshoot kitchen issues is valuable when challenges arise.

As we mentioned before, there are several ways to learn how to be a chef. Many folks assume they need to attend a big-name school to make a name for themselves in the culinary world. And yes, you can attend the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. But these options can put you in serious student loan debt, not to mention having to move halfway around the world.

There are other educational options closer to home of course, but when you finish with those programs, you’ll still probably need to work your way from entry-level jobs. The best way to learn how to chef is to get as much real-world experience as possible. You can do this by getting almost any job available in a kitchen and working your way up or by having a mentor show you the ropes inside a professional kitchen.

The CASA Gourmet Chef Program is a six-month program that gives you all of the foundation skills a chef needs while also putting you inside a professional kitchen to see how things operate in the real world. You’ll learn from your mentor–and experienced industry insider–and begin to compile that practical knowledge that is so valuable.

Finally, you can also learn to be a chef at your own pace via self-study or via one-off classes and workshops. There are many online tutorials, resources, and videos you can watch at your leisure, but this route will probably take the longest and you’ll more than likely have to start in an entry-level position no matter how impressive your portfolio is.

This is a question that can only be answered by the person asking. As you’ve read in other sections of this page, there are several paths to take when becoming a chef. Whether you choose a formal education at a university, a trade school, or a program, decide to jump into the workforce from the start, or choose a self-study route, timelines can change.

For example, a university could last four or more years–and that’s before you start looking for a job. A trade school or community college will span around two years, but you’ll still be looking for that professional experience that so many restaurants are looking for when hiring. And that’s what makes the CASA Gourmet Chef Program so exciting.

Not only do you get formal training from an experienced mentor, but if you’re good enough, you’ll be placed in a real-world kitchen, working with those already in the industry during open hours. This is the experience that will get you noticed and get you hired. Many of our externs are hired to work in the very kitchens they trained in.

With self-study, one-off classes, and workshops, how fast you learn the skills you need will be up to you. If this is more of a hobby, it will take much longer. If you choose to grab an entry-level position, the timeline will depend on the type of restaurant, the guidance you get, and if there’s any room for advancement.

A chef and a sous chef are both key positions in a professional kitchen, but they have different roles and responsibilities. Many of the skills are transferable–that is, there is very little difference in what the two positions can do in the kitchen. The titles are more to establish the hierarchy of a kitchen operation.

But it is a big distinction. A “chef” typically refers to the head chef or executive chef in a kitchen, the leader of the kitchen, and responsible for the overall operation, management, and creative direction of the culinary team. The sous chef is the chef’s right-hand person and is responsible for assisting the chef in various aspects of kitchen management and food preparation.

Where the chef creates and designs the menu, including choosing dishes, ingredients, and flavor profiles, the sous chef oversees the work of line cooks, prep cooks, and other kitchen personnel and ensures that dishes are prepared correctly and consistently according to the chef’s specifications.

While the chef manages other aspects of the kitchen (budgeting, managerial, etc.), the sous chef handles the training and development of the kitchen staff. The two usually have a very tight bond, although sous chefs usually aspire to run their own kitchen one day.

Chefs require a variety of equipment in the kitchen to prepare, cook, and present dishes effectively. The specific equipment a chef needs can vary depending on what their specialty is or if they have others in the kitchen that take care of certain duties. However, they must be adept at all pieces of equipment should questions or issues arise.

First and foremost, a chef must master all knives at their disposal, usually a personal set just for them. There are also several pieces of cookware (pots, pans, skillet, etc.) for cooking or baking, as well as other kitchen utensils (ladles, slotted spoons, rolling pins, and so on). Graters, thermometers, mortar and pestle, and brushes can also be found in most kitchens.

Beyond these items, appliances are also required in food prep and cooking. From food processors, countertop and stand mixers, and blenders to ovens, griddles, ranges, and steam tables, a chef should be able to cover every conceivable method of cooking. Even a wood-fired pizza oven if that ever enters the menu.

Of course, not every restaurant kitchen will be outfitted with everything above. Certain restaurants have specific offers (such as pizza) and other kitchens just won’t have the space for every piece of equipment known to man, But a good chef should know how to handle or operate that equipment–or get busy learning it.

Chefs can make anywhere from minimum wage to millions of dollars depending on a variety of factors. Skill level, experience, and even where you live can play a role in how much money you can earn as a chef, along with what kind of chef you are or the restaurant you work in.

For example, a commis chef (an entry-level position that helps with prep work) can earn up to $45,000 a year. Which may not seem all that bad for just starting out–unless you live in New York or Los Angeles. In a smaller city with less hustle and bustle, a starting salary may be almost half that.

As you begin to gain experience and grow your skills, you’ll begin to move into different positions that will earn you more money. A sous-chef is second in command in most kitchens and can earn up to $70,000 or more in a high-end restaurant, and considerably less in a smaller establishment. Executive chefs can earn six figures with enough experience, skill, and ownership possibilities.

Celebrity chefs–those you see on TV or have their own line of products–can earn millions. Of course, those positions are in themselves one in a million, and while setting your goals for yourself is important, the number one goal is to be the best chef you can be in an oftentimes demanding, frustrating, and hectic job with long hours.

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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

Culinary student in the kitchen

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