Cooks and chefs are needed by restaurants of all types and sizes; schools, hospitals, and other institutions; hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and other industries; and catering and bakery businesses. About 57 percent of the more than 2.3 million chefs and head cooks employed in the United States work at restaurants and other dining establishments. Others are employed by institutions/cafeterias, such as schools, universities, hospitals, and nursing homes; grocery stores; hotels; gas stations; and catering businesses.
Apprenticeship programs are one method of entering the trade. These programs usually offer the beginner sound basic training and a regular salary. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, cooks may be hired full time in their place of training or assisted in finding employment with another establishment. Cooks are hired as chefs only after they have acquired a number of years of experience. Cooks who have been formally trained through public or private trade or vocational schools, or in culinary institutes, may be able to take advantage of school placement services.
In many cases, a cook begins as a kitchen helper or cook's helper and, through experience gained in on-the-job training, is able to move into the job of cook. To do this, people sometimes start out in small restaurants, perhaps as short-order cooks, grill cooks, or sandwich or salad makers, and transfer to larger establishments as they gain experience.
School cafeteria workers who want to become cooks may have an opportunity to receive food-services training. Many school districts, with the cooperation of school food-services divisions of the state departments of education, provide on-the-job training and sometimes summer workshops for interested cafeteria employees. Some community colleges, state departments of education, and school associations offer similar programs. Cafeteria workers who have completed these training programs are often selected to fill positions as cooks.
Job opportunities may be located through employment bureaus, trade associations, unions, contacts with friends, newspaper and Internet want ads, or local offices of the state employment service. Another method is to apply directly to restaurants or hotels. Small restaurants, school cafeterias, and other eating places with simple food preparation will provide the greatest number of starting jobs for cooks. Job applicants who have had courses in commercial food preparation will have an advantage in large restaurants and hotels, where hiring standards are often high.
Advancement depends on the skill, training, experience, originality, and ambition of the individual. It also depends somewhat on the general business climate and employment trends.
Cooks with experience can advance by moving to other places of employment for higher wages or to establishments looking for someone with a specialized skill in preparing a particular kind of food. Cooks who have a number of years of successful job experience may find chef positions open to them; however, in some cases it may take 10 or 15 years to obtain such a position, depending on personal qualifications and other employment factors.
Expert cooks who have obtained supervisory responsibilities as head cooks or chefs may advance to positions as executive chefs or to other types of managerial work. Some go into business for themselves as caterers or restaurant owners; others may become instructors in vocational programs in high schools, colleges, or other academic institutions.
Visit Web sites of professional organizations, such as AIB International, which offers a career center with job postings.
Volunteer with community centers or organizations that serve meals to the homeless to gain experience.
Participate in an apprenticeship program such as those offered by the American Culinary Federation to gain work experience and make professional contacts.
Develop your cooking skills by planning menus and preparing meals for your family and friends.
Pursue advanced education through programs offered by educational organizations such as the Culinary Institute of America.