Oversee food preparation and staff in a professional kitchenChefs' duties may include hiring staff, planning menus and ordering foodChefs may specialize in a certain type of food, such as pastryAn apprenticeship or a formal education can be a good path to this career

Culinary Team USA is gearing up for the next World Culinary Olympics. This prestigious cooking competition is held every four years. They've brought home one gold medal. Can they do it again?

Chefs work behind the scenes in restaurants preparing customers' meals. They cook the food and arrange it on plates so it not only tastes great but looks great as well.

There are different types of chefs. There are executive chefs, sous chefs, station chefs and specialty chefs.

Executive chefs are at the top of the chain in large eateries, such as restaurant hotels. They do more paperwork than regular chefs do -- not only do they cook, they are also involved with hiring and firing staff, ordering, supervising and planning.

Sous chefs may supervise staff, as well, but they answer to the executive chef. Sous chefs may also do things like plan menus and train new staff.

Station chefs and specialty chefs often specialize in one thing, and they stick to it. A pastry chef is a good example of this kind of chef. Other station or specialty chefs might focus on lunches, soups or desserts.

There are also personal or private chefs, who don't work in restaurants at all. Instead, they work for people in their homes. There is much less work available in this area than in restaurants.

In restaurants, chefs may be responsible for making sure the kitchen is well stocked with all the needed accessories and for deciding on the daily specials.

It is important to note the difference between chefs and cooks. Cooks do a lot of the actual cooking. Chefs' duties, on the other hand, extend beyond cooking. Chefs are in charge of overseeing everything that goes on in the kitchen.

"There can be lots of cooks in a kitchen, but there can only ever be one [head] chef," says Matt Rissling, an executive chef. "Most chefs start out as really good cooks. It's these really good cooks who also have good people skills that eventually rise to the top of the kitchen to take control."

Being a chef isn't easy - they can work long hours and sometimes without overtime pay. There is also lots of weekend work as many people go out to eat on weekends.

There is also shift work. For instance, a chef may work until midnight one evening and still have to be back in the kitchen at 6 a.m. the following morning. However, the good news is that chefs who are higher up the food chain work more regular shifts. They are more involved in activities that require them to be in the restaurant during working hours.

Apart from being good communicators, chefs should be healthy to tolerate long shifts in hot kitchens.

Mainly, chefs must love food, says David Pantone. He's dean of culinary education at Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida.

"A chef works and plays with food," says Pantone. "A chef must have an intimate relationship with all foods. He or she must know everything about as many foods as possible, so they may treat each food with the respect that it deserves and prepare it to taste its best."

Occasionally, Pantone's work goes beyond regular chef's duties.

"I just got an emergency call from the local Boy Scout Summer Camp," he says. "Their head cook is crashing and burning from the pressure and long hours of serving over 600 people breakfast, lunch and dinner with a small staff of 13-to-16-year-old Scouts. I need to run up there and put together a plan of action that will organize the work and allow the staff to sleep once in a while. So add emergency crisis management to the list of chef's duties!"

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) reports that in 1998, chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers held more than 3.3 million jobs.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) has about 25,000 members. Not all American chefs belong to this association, however.

Wages vary depending on experience and the place of employment. "Wages generally are highest in elegant restaurants and hotels, where many executive chefs earn over $38,000 annually," reports a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association.

Salary can vary significantly depending on the place of employment and amount of experience, says the OOH. The median hourly income of cooks was $7.81 in 1998, with most earning between $6.38 and $9.53.

Although the OOH says that the titles "cooks" and "chefs" can be used interchangeably, they also note that chefs tend to be more skilled. A higher average wage for chefs is a reflection of this.

Wages generally are highest in elegant restaurants and hotels, where many executive chefs earned over $38,000 annually, in 1996, according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association.

The future of employment in this sector is promising, according to the OOH. They predict that the employment of chefs, cooks and other kitchen workers is expected to grow about as fast as average through 2008. Growth will be encouraged by increases in population, household income, and leisure time that will allow people to dine out and take vacations more often.

Projected growth varies by specialty. Skilled chefs, pastry chefs and bread chefs can expect a faster than average growth, while those employed by institutions like schools and hospitals can expect slower growth.

Meanwhile, the New England Culinary Institute notes that in the 1980s, the food and beverage industry grew more than any other industry.

RegionAverage Annual EarningsAverage Hourly EarningsU.S. National$42,410$20.39RegionOutlook2008 Workforce2008 to 2018 Growth RateU.S. NationalStable108,2900.19%

A chef does not need any formal training or specific education. However, there are culinary schools and culinary programs at colleges and universities that help aspiring chefs develop their skills. Look around to see if there is a culinary school near you, or if local colleges and universities offer culinary programs.

Chefs do require certain skills -- whether they have them naturally or they go to school to get them.

"Certainly to excel or even tread water, a basic set of skills is required," says Matt Rissling, an executive chef.

David Pantone is the dean of culinary education at Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. He says that while it is possible to succeed without any education, most people get some schooling before attempting a career as a chef.

"In this millennium, most young people go to a culinary school in order to learn the right way and skip making a lot of newbie mistakes," he says. "The more you learn, the more you grow."

Chefs can get certification through the American Culinary Federation. The federation offers 14 different certification designations. Some examples include certified executive chef, certified master pastry chef and personal certified chef. Each certification has specific qualifications.

The Culinary Institute of America offers associate and bachelor's degree programs in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts at two separate campuses. They are one example of the many schools offering culinary programs in the United States:The Culinary Institute of America
433 Albany Post Rd.Hyde ParkNY12538USA
American Culinary Federation
180 Center Place WaySt AugustineFL32095USA
International Association of Culinary Professionals
300 - 1100 Johnson Ferry RdAtlantaGA30342 USA
United States Personal Chef Association
610 Quantum Rd. NERio RanchoNM87124USA