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How to Become a Top Chef

Turn your love of cooking into a culinary career with these guidelines on how to become a top chef.


  • Step 1: Get promoted to _sous chef_ -- the chief assistant to the executive chef. This position also involves administrative work, like managing kitchen schedules. You'll also fill in for the line cooks, so you must be proficient in all food areas. You'll run the kitchen when the executive chef is not available. Many contestants on the TV show _Top Chef_ are _sous chefs_.
  • TIP: For information on becoming a contestant on Top Chef, go to "":
  • Step 2: Rise to executive chef. As head honcho, you'll plan the menus, hire the kitchen staff, and oversee the budget. Not much cooking is involved in this position, so many cooks are often happy to remain a sous chef or a line cook. After all, you don't have to be an executive chef to be a top chef.
  • FACT: Auguste Escoffier, head chef for Cesar Ritz's hotel restaurants in the late 19th century, is considered the first "celebrity chef."
  • Step 3: Move up to _chef de partie_, also known as a line cook. You'll be responsible for cooking one specific component on the menu.
  • Step 4: Become a _commis chef_, or apprentice. Your duties will include a lot of prep work, like peeling vegetables, and you'll receive training in everything from meat and sauces to pasta and pastry. You can also be a _commis chef_ while attending culinary school.
  • Step 5: Consider going to culinary school, but realize it's not mandatory for success in this field. Many top chefs learned on the job, some even started their careers as dishwashers.
  • Step 6: Even if you're determined to go to culinary school, spend some time working in a restaurant kitchen beforehand to see if you're cut out for the job. Some schools require it: The Culinary Institute of America won't consider applicants who don't have a few months experience working in a professional, non-fast-food kitchen.
  • TIP: According to a salary survey, chefs with culinary degrees earn an average of just $300 more per year than those who skipped cooking school.
  • Step 7: Give serious thought to whether you have the temperament for the job. Being a top chef requires more than just being able to cook well; you must be willing to start at the bottom, work long hours for modest pay, handle pressure, and be a team player.

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