Interestingly, there is no formal training necessary to become a chef. Many chefs have cut their career teeth as line cooks in restaurants of all descriptions, learning at the feet of established professionals. Even some of the most famous of celebrity chefs got their start with concession stands, the Macy’s food counter, and even scooping ice cream. There isn’t one particular certificate for being a chef. There are at least 10. Here is a sampling of those:
Certified Food Service Professional
This is a basic course that covers food sanitation and safety. Students must pass an online examination after they complete a series of credits based on their food-service experience. The number of credits varies based on where the students live, but it’s usually about 35. This certification doesn’t cover much in the way of actual cooking. To work in a professional kitchen, the budding chef needs to have this to prove knowledge of the relevant codes.
Master Certified Food Executive
In the course required for this certification, the chef learns how to manage a kitchen, keep track of inventory and use advanced storage techniques, and to develop the soft skills necessary for interacting with the public and with employees of other companies with which any restaurant must deal. Another examination awaits after completion of the course.
Certified Personal Chef
After working at least two years as a personal chef, people can seek this certification. It includes education about exotic ingredients that clients might prefer and how to store them properly. Chefs also learn basic event planning so that they can work with professional event planners to ensure that their food compliments the event in the right way. Students in the course also learn marketing and financial management so that they can start their own businesses as sole proprietors.
Certified Executive Chef
Once a chef has experience managing at least five people in a kitchen, that person can apply for this credential. Necessarily, this certificate requires more management development and instruction than others. Students also learn nutrition and also how to manage the serving of beverages. Many also learn to tend bar so that they understand the workings of any bar attached to a restaurant or hotel where they work. To maintain this certification, chefs must routinely complete continuing education of one kind or another that is applicable to the job.
Certified Working Pastry Chef
Ah, dessert! Chefs who want to work with tortes, cakes, pies, and other delectable sweets earn this designation. Pastry chefs usually have advanced in their careers to a point where they manage two people in the kitchen as general chefs. Becoming a pastry chef doesn’t mean that these people will eschew their general chef skills. It’s a “feather in the cap” in one’s resume that can make chefs more attractive to employers because hiring one person who can do two things is better than hiring two. It’s a demanding course, requiring 120 or more hours of experience with certain skills and at least five years’ experience working with pastries.
This is a “nice to have” on one’s resume. It involves training in creating eye-catching cakes, pastries, and even cookies. It allows chefs to express their visually artistic side. Fondant is fondant when it comes to making it, but the ways that certified decorators can use it to create movie scenes, stunning landscapes, and even images of photographic quality is quite astounding.
Certified Master Chef
This is the pinnacle of culinary achievement. It is the equivalent of the Les Clefs d’Or when it comes to hotel concierges. In 2014, there were only 67 chefs who held this designation. The testing is grueling and takes place over eight days. It costs, counting travel and accommodation, between $4,000 and $6,000. There are only a handful of places where one can take the examination, the most prestigious of which is the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. The test covers everything chefs should know at that point in their careers: cooking itself, recipe creation, food safety, nutrition, and everything else associated with the classical technique. It is such a difficult test that failing it is not seen as something bad. Almost everyone fails it at least once, which is not surprising because there are so few American chefs who hold the designation.
The Unwritten Code of the Kitchen
The kitchen is an autocracy. What the chef says, goes. Everyone in the kitchen, including sous chefs, preppers, line cooks, and even cleaning staff has to work as the ultimate team. It’s backbreaking work. The hours are long. The expectation of perfection is pervasive. You come early. You leave late. You never miss if you can help it. You have each other’s backs. There’s no place for petty rivalries or grudges. You have to devote your life to the job.