Who wouldn’t want to make desserts for a living?

Girls since time immemorial have learned to cook. Or, at least, tried to learn. (Admittedly, it took me over 20 years to learn how to cook more than the basics.) Yet cooking can be very rewarding, especially as a career path.
Being a chef is a highly demanding field: it requires stamina for long hours on your feet, the ability to handle high-volume orders (whether catering a wedding or handling the Saturday night rush), and a high degree of expertise in cooking skills. It can also involve 50+ hour workweeks, late nights, and working weekends and holidays in high stress–and often low pay–situations.  
Yet it is also a very creative and rewarding career: trying new recipes, making up new dishes, and watching you create works of art with one of humanity’s most basic needs. So if you like what you’ve read so far, here’s what you need to know to become a chef:
  1. Learn to cook. Try taking a cooking class at your local community college; many do non-credit night classes in basic techniques or specific recipes. Or just ask your mother or grandmother for some lessons.
  2. Practice at home, with friends and family. Learn old family recipes, new recipes, and even try modifying or creating new ones. Chefs are all about innovation.
  3. Look at the greats. Several episodes of Julia Child’s show are available for free, and there’s always the option of cooking through The Art of French Cooking to see if you’re up for the task!
  4. If you like it so far (and hopefully your friends and family concur that you’ve got mad skills), consider looking into advanced culinary classes at your community college or getting an entry-level job at a restaurant. Though you might not like stuffing raviolis and peeling potatoes, it’s the best way to figure out if working in a fast-paced restaurant is something you can handle and might enjoy. Plus, you’re also gaining an understanding of the jobs that people under you will have to do‚Äìand the greatest leaders all respect those lowest on the totem pole, recognizing that even the smallest person can make a big difference in everyone’s success.

So you’ve found that you like to cook and can handle a high-volume restaurant (and maybe even enjoy it!). Congrats! Now, it’s time to get some more formal training. While many Chefs can rise through the ranks by working, your best option is culinary school. Research schools in your area. Talk to guidance counselors or the advisers at that school, and see if you can talk to students at the schools as well. Find a program that fits your needs, but remember that a culinary degree won’t make you the Executive Chef right away.¬†
Rather, the degree will prepare you with the physical skills and general knowledge needed to become a chef garde manger (the appetizers and soup person) or a line cook. With years of education and experience, you might become a sous chef (the second-in-command) and, hopefully, the executive chef or even a restaurant owner. But remember that, like most goals in life, being a chef takes hard work, dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to always be learning, trying, and doing new things.

-Tiffany Piotti
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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