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A reputation for serving good food is essential to any restaurant, whether it prides itself on hamburgers and french fries or exotic foreign cuisine. Chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers are largely responsible for the reputation a restaurant acquires. Some restaurants offer a varied menu featuring meals that are time consuming and difficult to prepare, requiring a highly skilled cook or chef. Other restaurants emphasize fast service, offering hamburgers and sandwiches that can be prepared in advance or in a few minutes by a fast-food or short-order cook with only limited cooking skills.
Chefs and cooks are responsible for preparing meals that are pleasing to the palate and the eye. Chefs are the most highly skilled, trained, and experienced of all kitchen workers. Although the terms chef and cook are still used interchangeably, cooks are less skilled. Many chefs have earned fame for both themselves and the establishments where they work due to their skillful preparation of traditional dishes and refreshing twists in creating new ones. (For information on executive chefs, see the Handbook statement on restaurant and food service managers.)
Institutional chefs and cooks work in the kitchens of schools, industrial cafeterias, hospitals, and other institutions. For each meal, they prepare a small selection, but large quantity of entrees, vegetables, and desserts. Restaurant chefs and cooks generally prepare a wider selection of dishes for each meal, cooking most orders individually. Whether in institutions or restaurants, chefs and cooks measure, mix, and cook ingredients according to recipes. In the course of their work they use a variety of pots, pans, cutlery, and equipment, including ovens, broilers, grills, slicers, grinders, and blenders. They are often responsible for directing the work of other kitchen workers, estimating food requirements, and ordering food supplies. Some chefs and cooks also assist in planning meals and developing menus.
Bread and pastry bakers, called pastry chefs in some kitchens, produce baked goods for restaurants, institutions, and retail bakery shops. Unlike bakers who work in large, automated industrial bakeries, bread and pastry bakers need only to supply the customers who visit their establishment. They bake smaller quantities of breads, rolls, pastries, pies, and cakes, doing most of the work by hand. They measure and mix ingredients, shape and bake the dough, and apply fillings and decorations.
Short-order cooks prepare foods to order in restaurants and coffee shops that emphasize fast service. They grill and garnish hamburgers, prepare sandwiches, fry eggs, and cook french fried potatoes, often working on several orders at the same time. Prior to busy periods, they may slice meats and cheeses or prepare coleslaw or potato salad. During slow periods, they may clean the grill, food preparation surfaces, counters, and floors.
Specialty fast-food cooks prepare a limited selection of menu items in fast-food restaurants. They cook and package batches of food such as hamburgers and fried chicken, which are prepared to order or kept warm until sold.
Other kitchen workers, under the direction of chefs and cooks, perform tasks requiring less skill. They weigh and measure ingredients, fetch pots and pans, and stir and strain soups and sauces. They clean, peel, and slice potatoes, other vegetables, and fruits and make salads. They may cut and grind meats, poultry, and seafood in preparation for cooking. Their responsibilities also include cleaning work areas, equipment and utensils, and dishes and silverware.
The number and types of workers employed in kitchens depends on the type of establishment. For example, fast-food outlets offer only a few items, which are prepared by fast-food cooks. Smaller, full-service restaurants offering a casual dining atmosphere often feature a limited number of easy-to-prepare items, supplemented by short-order specialties and ready-made desserts. Typically, one cook prepares all of the food with the help of a short-order cook and one or two kitchen workers.
Large eating places tend to have varied menus and prepare more of the food they serve from start to finish. Kitchen staffs often include several chefs and cooks, sometimes called assistant or apprentice chefs or cooks, a bread and pastry baker, and many less skilled kitchen workers. Each chef or cook usually has a special assignment and often a special job titlevegetable, fry, or sauce cook, for example. Executive chefs coordinate the work of the kitchen staff and often direct the preparation of certain foods. They decide the size of servings, sometimes plan menus, and buy food supplies.
Many restaurant and institutional kitchens have modern equipment, convenient work areas, and air-conditioning; but in older and smaller eating places, the kitchens often are not as well equipped. Working conditions depend on the type and quantity of food being prepared and the local laws governing food service operations. Workers generally must withstand the pressure and strain of working in close quarters, standing for hours at a time, lifting heavy pots and kettles, and working near hot ovens and grills. Job hazards include slips and falls, cuts, and burns, but injuries are seldom serious.
Work hours in restaurants may include late evenings, holidays, and weekends, while hours in factory, and school cafeterias may be more regular. Half of all short-order and fast-food cooks and other kitchen workers worked part time; a third of all bakers and restaurant and institutional cooks worked part time. Kitchen workers employed by public and private schools may work during the school year only, usually for 9 or 10 months. Similarly, establishments at vacation resorts generally only offer seasonal employment.
Chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers held more than 3.2 million jobs in 1994. Short-order and fast-food cooks held 760,000 of the jobs; restaurant cooks, 704,000; institutional cooks, 412,000; bread and pastry bakers, 170,000; and other kitchen workers, 1,190,000.
About three-fifths of all chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers were employed in restaurants and other retail eating and drinking places. One-fifth worked in institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals, and nursing homes. The remainder were employed by grocery stores, hotels, and many other organizations.
require little education or training and most skills are learned on the job. After acquiring some basic food handling, preparation, and cooking skills, they may be able to advance to an assistant cook or short-order cook position. To achieve the level of skill required of an executive chef or cook in a fine restaurant, many years of training and experience are necessary. Even though a high school diploma is not required for beginning jobs, it is recommended for those planning a career as a cook or chef. High school or vocational school courses in business arithmetic and business administration are particularly helpful.
Many school districts, in cooperation with State departments of education, provide on-the-job training and sometimes summer workshops for cafeteria kitchen workers with aspirations of becoming cooks. Employees who have participated in these training programs are often selected for jobs as cooks.
An increasing number of chefs and cooks obtain their training through high school, post-high school vocational programs, and 2- or 4-year colleges. Chefs and cooks also may be trained in apprenticeship programs offered by professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions. An example is the 3-year apprenticeship program administered by local chapters of the American Culinary Federation in cooperation with local employers and junior colleges or vocational education institutions. In addition, some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training programs for cooks and chefs.
People who have had courses in commercial food preparation may be able to start in a cook or chef job without having to spend time in a lower skilled kitchen job. Their education may give them an advantage when looking for jobs in better restaurants and hotels, where hiring standards often are high. Some vocational programs in high schools offer this kind of training, but usually these courses are given by trade schools, vocational centers, colleges, professional associations, and trade unions. Post secondary courses range from a few months to 2 years or more and are open in some cases only to high school graduates. The Armed Forces are also a good source of training and experience.
Although curricula may vary, students usually spend most of their time learning to prepare food through actual practice. They learn to bake, broil, and otherwise prepare food, and to use and care for kitchen equipment. Training programs often include courses in menu planning, determination of portion size, food cost control, purchasing food supplies in quantity, selection and storage of food, and use of leftover food to minimize waste. Students also learn hotel and restaurant sanitation and public health rules for handling food. Training in supervisory and management skills sometimes is emphasized in courses offered by private vocational schools, professional associations, and university programs.
Culinary courses are given by 550 schools across the Nation. The American Culinary Federation accredited 70 of these programs in 1993. Accreditation is an indication that a culinary program meets recognized standards regarding course content, facilities, and quality of instruction. The American Culinary Federation has only been accrediting culinary programs for a relatively short time, and many programs have yet to seek accreditation.
Certification provides valuable formal recognition of the skills of a chef or cook. The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs and cooks at the levels of cook, working chef, executive chef, and master chef. It also certifies pastry professionals and culinary educators. Certification standards are based primarily on experience and formal training.
Important qualifications for chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers include the ability to work as part of a team, possessing a keen sense of taste and smell, and personal cleanliness. Most States require health certificates indicating workers are free from communicable diseases.
Advancement opportunities for chefs and cooks are better than for most other food and beverage preparation and service occupations. Many acquire higher paying positions and new cooking skills by moving from one job to another. Besides culinary skills, advancement also depends on ability to supervise lesser skilled workers and limit food costs by minimizing waste and accurately anticipating the amount of perishable supplies needed. Some cooks and chefs gradually advance to executive chef positions or supervisory or management positions, particularly in hotels, clubs, or larger, more elegant restaurants. Some eventually go into business as caterers or restaurant owners, while others become instructors in vocational programs in high schools, community colleges, and other academic institutions.
Job openings for chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers are expected to be plentiful through the year 2005. Growth in demand for these workers will create many new positions, but most openings will arise from the need to replace the high proportion of workers who leave this occupation every year. There is substantial turnover in many of these jobs because of the minimal educational and training requirements. The occupation also offers many part-time positions, attractive to people seeking a short-term source of income rather than a career. Many of the workers who leave these jobs transfer to other occupations, while others stop working to assume household responsibilities or to attend school full time.
Workers under the age of 25 have traditionally filled a significant proportion of the lesser skilled jobs in this occupation. The pool of young workers is expected to continue to shrink through the 1990's, but begin to expand after the year 2000. Many employers will be forced to offer higher wages, better benefits, and more training to attract and retain workers.
Employment of chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Since a significant proportion of food and beverage sales by eating and drinking establishments is associated with the overall level of economic activity, sales and employment will increase with the growth of the economy. Other factors contributing to employment growth will be population growth, rising household incomes, and an increase in leisure time that will allow people to dine out and take vacations more often. As two income households are becoming more common, families may increasingly find dining out a convenience.
Employment in restaurants is expected to grow. As the average age of the population increases, demand will grow for restaurants that offer table service and more varied menuswhich will require higher skilled cooks and chefs. The popularity of fresh baked breads and pastries in fine dining establishments should ensure continued rapid growth in the employment of bakers. However, employment of short-order and specialty fast-food cooks is expected to change or grow more slowly than the average than other occupations in this group because most work in fast-food restaurants, which are expected to grow at a slower rate than in the past.
Employment of institutional and cafeteria chefs and cooks will change or grow more slowly than the average. Their employment is concentrated in the educational and health services sectors. Although employment in both sectors is expected to increase rapidly, growth of institutional and cafeteria cooks will not keep pace. Many high schools and hospitals are trying to make "institutional food" more attractive to students, staff, visitors, and patients. While some are employing more highly trained chefs and cooks to prepare more appealing meals, others are contracting out their food services. Many of the contracted companies emphasize fast-food and employ short-order and fast-food cooks instead of institutional and cafeteria cooks.
Wages of chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers depend greatly on the part of the country and the type of establishment in which they are employed. Wages generally are highest in elegant restaurants and hotels, with many executive chefs earning over $40,000 annually. According to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, median hourly earnings of cooks in 1994 were $6.85, with most earning between $6.00 and $8.00. Assistant cooks had median hourly earnings of $6.25, with most earning between $5.50 and $7.00.
The same survey indicated that short-order cooks had median hourly earnings of $6.50 in 1994; most earned between $5.50 and $7.25. Median hourly earnings of bread and pastry bakers were $6.50; most earned within the range of $6.00 to $7.68. Salad preparation workers generally earned less, with median hourly earnings of $5.50; most earned between $5.25 and $6.50.
Some employers provide employees with uniforms and free meals, but Federal law permits employers to deduct from their employees' wages the cost or fair value of any meals or lodging provided, and some employers do so. Chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers who work full time often receive paid vacation and sick leave and health insurance, but part-time workers generally do not.
In some large hotels and restaurants, kitchen workers belong to unions. The principal unions are the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and the Service Employees International Union.
Workers who perform tasks similar to those of chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers include butchers and meat cutters, cannery workers, and industrial bakers.
Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State employment service. Career information about chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers, as well as a directory of 2- and 4-year colleges that offer courses or programs that prepare persons for food service careers, is available from:
The Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association, 250 South Wacker Dr., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60606.
For information on the American Culinary Federation's apprenticeship and certification programs for cooks, as well as a list of accredited culinary programs, write to:
American Culinary Federation, P.O. Box 3466, St. Augustine, FL 32085.
For general information on hospitality careers, write to:
Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, 1200 17th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036-3097.
For general career information and a directory of accredited private career and technical schools offering programs in the culinary arts, write to:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
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