How to Become a Cook

By Eric Hammer

First off, if you want to become a cook because you think it's an easy profession, think again. While it can be a lot of fun, it is also a job which entails a great deal of hard work, extremely long hours and a lot of standing up on your feet over a hot stove. And don't forget that a part of being a cook also means cleaning up after you're done cooking whatever it is you're making. Here's what you need to know:

With the advent of the cooking shows on television such as Iron Chef and Top Chef, the desire to become a cook has never been higher. These shows tend to romanticize the business of being a cook and make it seem like it's all about experimenting in the kitchen and trying something new each day of the week. In reality, most cooks have to learn how to do things in a repetitive way and have little time to experiment with new ingredients.

You should also expect to rise early, often getting to the restaurant as early as 6AM. Leaving work at midnight is quite common for many cooks because the work is simply that grueling. You will basically be standing for 12 hours a day preparing meals, usually the same things over and over again. You will also find that you need to do a lot of prep on your free time (whatever little there is) so that you can come up with new menu creations.

How Much Can You Make?

The best chefs in America do make six figure incomes, however a more realistic expectation is that you could make somewhere around $30,000-$50,000 per year.

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Those wishing to become a cook need to really be sure that they want to do the job. While it can be a great deal of fun to be a cook, it is also a job which requires you to really love what you do simply because it is such a demanding profession. It's also useful to note that you won't immediately have your own kitchen. The odds are good that you will spend a number of years working under a master chef who will teach you to make dishes that he likes.

You will also need to have a strong back as you'll often need to take inventory when it arrives from the wholesalers and put the food away. This is in addition to standing for as many as 14 hours per day in front of a hot stove and being under constant pressure to perform and get the work done that you have been paid to do.

On the other hand, for those who love to cook, there is simply no other possible job that could compare because there is nothing quite like preparing a meal from start to finish and occasionally seeing the faces of your customers light up when they taste your creations.

Qualifications / Requirements

Generally, you'll need to go to culinary school in order to become a cook. While you can simply get a job as a short order cook by working in a fast food restaurant, those interested in doing something more will need a degree where they learned how to do the kind of work that you simply cannot learn to do when you flip burgers.

First Steps

Start by visiting some kitchens and asking if you can get work in them doing any job available. Take the time to befriend the cooks and learn something about the job. Even if you are only a dishwasher, you'll pick up quite a bit. Then, if you are sure this is what you want to do, apply to a culinary school. Note that many schools will have an entrance exam where you need to prepare a dish for the examiners, so be sure you know something about cooking before you apply.


Eggbeater: How Do I Get a Professional Cooking/Baking Job? - This is another excellent introduction to what it takes to become a cook.

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