(5.4 out of 10)
|Number of Jobs:||117,800|
|This Job is Ranked in|
|Best Social Services Jobs||#21|
|The 100 Best Jobs||#81|
Whether our culinary skills limit us to stirring contents straight from the microwave or extend to putting the finishing touches on homemade coq au vin, we all prepare food. Professional restaurant cooks, however, take food preparation to another level. They do the basic tasks of cooking, of course—braising, blanching, wisking, garnishing, grilling, and more. But they’ve also mastered other talents. The best in the business have cool heads and fast fingers to better maneuver in a pressure-cooking kitchen (literally) and quickly and efficiently get patrons’ orders to the table. They have a limber imagination for switching up the menu and substituting ingredients, a pleasant personality for fielding both compliments and complaints, and a collaborative spirit for managing and working well with other kitchen staff.
The depressed economy hasn’t stunted dining out as much as you might think, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 117,800 new openings for restaurant cooks between now and 2020. Cooks who’ve received formal training have the best job prospects, and those working as lower-level kitchen cooks (known as line cooks and sous chefs) will see more opportunity as restaurants attempt to cut costs and avoid hiring head cooks or chefs.
Restaurant cooks make surprisingly low salaries. The median salary in 2011 was $22,080, while those in the top-10 percentile earned $32,160. The lowest-paid earned approximately $16,800. Head cooks and chefs earned more in a year: The highest-paid took home approximately $74,060 in 2011. And it’s no surprise that the largest paychecks are generated in big cities like Philadelphia, Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco.
This occupation involves more than just mixing and sauteing. Becoming proficient in cooking styles, techniques, and food safety requires training, not to mention considerable experience. On-the-job tutelage is common, but attending an accredited cooking program is also beneficial, particularly for those who want to turn cooking into a career. It’s also possible to receive certification for various skill levels.
Michael J. Beriau, the executive chef at the White Cliffs Country Club in Plymouth, Mass., has a wealth of pointers for prospective cooks. First, he suggests spending at least a year working in a kitchen (as an assistant, or perhaps on cleanup) to get to know the working environment and grow accustomed to the hours. Then, spend an additional year working as a cook in that same kitchen. Next up would be culinary school: “They also need to have great communication skills, great computer skills, and it helps to have a bachelor’s degree in restaurant administration,” he says. “That could launch them ahead of other candidates [with job prospects], maybe by even 12 years.”
The hiring process can vary by restaurant, but Beriau says the first thing he looks for in a potential hire is a well-written resume that shows a worker who has put in at least two years in one position. They might then receive a sit-down interview, and if that goes well, receive a call back for a two-hour “live” interview where they’ll need to prepare both a chicken and fish dish. “I’m not looking for them to knock the dish out the park,” he explains. “I want to find out if the food harmonizes with each other. Does the sauce go well with the dish. We’re also watching over them to judge their preparation skills, their sanitation skills, and their temperament.”
|Upward Mobility||Above Average|
|Stress Level||Above Average|