It certainly seems like the dream life if you love cooking: developing menus, preparing new and exciting dishes, and running a kitchen like a well-oiled machine. The position of an executive chef at a high-end restaurant, navigating the hectic dinner rush, and being the talk of the town–not to mention the riches that are sure to follow–can be quite intoxicating. But, until you reach that rarified air, how much do chefs make in the real world?
For all of the top chefs who appear on TV shows, create supermarket brands, or prepare daily meals for big-shot executives and movie stars (and earn the highest pay), there are hundreds of others toiling away in kitchens, doing what they love for much lower average salaries. Still, depending on your experience, higher salaries aren’t out of reach.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the marketplace for chefs and head cooks is set to increase by 5 percent over the next decade, a higher rate than the average of other industries. As people return to fancy food establishments, small bistros, and greasy spoons after the pandemic, cooks are needed in high demand.
But you probably won’t jump into a lead chef position from the start. It will take years of experience in a variety of positions before you can call a professional kitchen your own. There are many different types of chef jobs in the culinary world, all of which carry different expectations as well as paychecks.
Some Considerations When it Comes to How Much Chefs Make
When it comes to salaries for chefs, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost is experience, as chefs who have been in the industry for several years and have honed their skills are likely to command a higher salary. Location also plays a significant role, as chefs working in major cities or high-end establishments can expect to earn more than those working in smaller towns or casual eateries.
The educational level can play a role but isn’t nearly as important as being able to do the job. Chefs with formal culinary degrees or certifications may be viewed more favorably by some employers, but you still need to prove what you can do. And that’s where CASA can give you a huge boost in the right direction.
The Gourmet Chef Program at CASA is designed to give you unmatched, practical experience in a professional kitchen. Your mentor is an industry expert, and you’ll get to see how professional chefs and others within the kitchen work together. Being a chef is much more than creating the perfect dish–and we’ll put you in real-world situations so you can see for yourself.
From learning how to pick the freshest ingredients, to prepping the kitchen, to finally cooking and plating the food, you’ll learn how everything comes together to give diners an experience they won’t soon forget. At the end of the program, we’ll place you inside a real restaurant where you’ll put what you’ve learned into practice.
This just isn’t possible in a normal classroom setting. Better yet, it won’t cost you as much money or take as long as some of those “brand” schools in the United States, even more if you go abroad. Why go into massive student loan debt and waste years of your life in a classroom when you roll up your sleeves and get valuable experience right now?
How Much Do Chefs Make
While salaries can vary greatly, one thing is for sure – a career as a chef can be highly rewarding both personally and financially. Let’s take a look at a general breakdown of chef salaries:
Entry-Level Chefs and Cooks
Those just starting in the culinary field typically earn the least, which makes sense of course. In fact, they may not even be chefs at all, or that may not be their primary position. Many chefs first get their foot in the door, then work their way up the ladder.
These salaries are usually low-paying or minimum-wage hourly jobs. But once they finally do earn their shot in some capacity, their salaries can range from minimum wage to around $15 per hour, or an annual salary of $25,000 to $30,000.
Line cooks with a bit more experience may earn between $12 to $20 per hour, depending on the restaurant and location. This can’t be overstated: You will make more as a line cook in San Francisco, but just living in San Francisco can take a huge chunk of what you earn.
That being said, line cooks generally make an annual salary of $30,000 to $40,000. Certainly not an exorbitant rate, but the experience you gain in this position will help you earn more in the future.
Sous chefs, who are second in command in the kitchen, can earn significantly more. Because they have more responsibilities than line cooks, they can command a higher salary. Their salaries range from $40,000 to $70,000 per year, or even higher depending on the restaurant.
Head Chefs or Executive Chefs
The salaries of head chefs or executive chefs can vary greatly based on the restaurant’s prestige and location. In smaller restaurants, they might earn $50,000 to $80,000 per year, while in upscale or fine-dining restaurants, their salaries can exceed $100,000 per year.
Celebrity chefs, who often have their own restaurants, TV shows, cookbooks, and brand endorsements, can earn millions of dollars annually. As hard as it is to become a chef of notoriety, it can be just as difficult to keep that position.
It’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary significantly based on factors like geographic location, the type of cuisine served, and the chef’s individual reputation and skills. Additionally, the culinary industry can be demanding, with extended hours and high-pressure environments, which can also influence compensation.