Short-term on-the-job training and work-related experience are the most common ways to become a cook. Although no formal education is required, some restaurant cooks and private household cooks attend culinary schools. Others attend vocational or apprenticeship programs.
Independent and vocational cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, and college degree programs provide training for aspiring cooks. Programs generally last from a few months to 2 years. Some programs offer training in advanced cooking techniques, international cuisines, and cooking styles. To enter these programs, candidates may be required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the type and length of the program, graduates generally qualify for entry-level positions as a restaurant cook.
Most cooks learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. Training generally starts with learning kitchen basics and workplace safety and continues with handling and cooking food.
Some cooks learn through an apprenticeship program. Professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions sponsor such programs for cooks, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor. Typical apprenticeships last 1 year and combine technical training and work experience. Apprentices complete courses in food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. They also learn practical cooking skills under the supervision of an experienced chef. The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs and sponsors apprenticeships through these programs around the country. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
Minimum age of 17
High school education or equivalent
Pass substance abuse screening
Some hotels, a number of restaurants, and the Armed Forces have their own training programs.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Many cooks learn their skills through work-related experience. They typically start as a kitchen helper or food preparation worker learning basic cooking skills before they advance to assistant cook or line cook positions. Some learn by working under the guidance of a more experienced cook.
The American Culinary Federation certifies chefs as proficient in different skill levels. For cooks seeking certification and advancement to higher level chef positions, certification can show accomplishment and lead to higher paying positions.
Advancement opportunities for cooks often depend on training, work experience, and the ability to prepare more complex dishes. Those who learn new cooking skills and who accept greater responsibility often advance. Some cooks may train or supervise kitchen staff who have fewer cooking skills.