How To Become an Executive Chef (With Job Description)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 3 October 2022 | Published 11 October 2021

Updated 3 October 2022

Published 11 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An executive chef, sometimes called a chef de cuisine, is the most senior chef rank in a restaurant. Taking part in vocational training and getting hospitality experience can you advance to this senior rank. Understanding how to become an executive chef can help you plan your path in the food industry. In this article, we explain how to become an executive chef and list the duties, skills and average salary of these hospitality professionals.

How to become an executive chef

Chefs start their careers at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy and seek promotions until they reach the executive chef level. Formal chef qualifications are optional, although they can help chefs advance through the ranks. Here are the most common steps people take to become executive chefs:

1. Complete high school to the end of year 10, at minimum

You may leave high school and secure a chef's apprenticeship once you turn 15. Many aspiring executive chefs choose this path so they can focus on their careers in food. You may also stay in school and start a school-based apprenticeship in year 11. During a school-based apprenticeship, you complete part of your apprenticeship and standard school subjects in years 11 and 12. You graduate high school with your secondary school certificate and continue your apprenticeship.

2. Get hospitality experience

You can apply for entry-level part-time and casual jobs when you turn 15. Jobs in restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets provide good training for aspiring chefs. Employers often create schedules for team members around their school or apprenticeship commitments. Becoming a kitchen hand or cook lets you work with ingredients and contribute directly to dishes. Other entry-level jobs such as dishwasher and wait staff roles also provide valuable hospitality experience. All these roles involve weekend and public holiday hours, so they can help you decide if this schedule suits you.

3. Complete your chef's apprenticeship

Complete a chef's apprenticeship at a hospitality venue, such as a restaurant or café. Try to secure an apprenticeship with a kitchen serving the kind of food you aim to serve through your career. A local apprenticeship network or Group Training Organisation (GTO) provider can help you connect with a kitchen accepting apprentices.

During your three-year apprenticeship, you can work in a kitchen under the supervision of qualified chefs. You also attend classes that teach you skills and information for your career. You receive a vocational qualification after completing your chef work. A Certificate III in Commercial Cookery is the most common qualification for apprentice chefs. If you focused on pastry cooking, you may earn a Certificate III in Patisserie.

Related: How To Get Into An Apprenticeship (With Steps And Benefits)

4. Become a junior chef

A junior chef, sometimes called a station chef or commis chef, is the first professional chef rank. Many businesses promote their successful apprentice chefs to station chefs after they get their qualifications. If you are ready for a new challenge, you may apply for a station chef role at another hospitality venue. Mention your notable achievements in your resume and personal reasons for pursuing the job in your cover letter so your applications stand out.

Related: What Is a Commis Chef? (With Career Steps and FAQs)

5. Get a mentor

Connect with an executive chef who can mentor you and help you advance your career. You could also find a suitable mentor in your network or through an online community. Meet with your mentor regularly to discuss your careers and aspirations. Ask your mentor how they became an executive chef and follow their example. Encourage your mentor to identify your strengths and the areas you can improve.

Related: How To Find a Mentor: A Step-by-Step Guide With Tips

6. Get a food safety supervisor certificate

Food businesses have at least one food safety supervisor. A food safety supervisor certificate can differentiate you from other chefs and advance your career. You may complete the training for this certificate in person or online. The training teaches you to oversee occupational health and safety practices in a commercial kitchen. A multiple-choice quiz tests your knowledge of the course material. If you pass the exam, you receive the food safety supervisor certificate, also known as a green certificate. If you are in New South Wales, apply for a NSW Food Authority certificate with your food safety supervisor certificate.

7. Pursue a hospitality management qualification

Further study can teach you the management skills you use in an executive chef job. A Diploma of Hospitality Management is a good choice for people pursuing executive chef jobs as it teaches leadership and management skills for the hospitality sector. A Bachelor of Business (Hospitality Management) provides a more advanced education. The diploma takes six months while the bachelor's degree takes three years' of full-time study. Studying part-time can be more manageable for professional chefs.

8. Advance your career

Focus on learning new skills in the kitchen and making yourself an important member of your team. Accept opportunities for advancement as they present themselves. You may stay with your original employer or seek opportunities in other kitchens. Over time you may become a sous chef, a head chef and then an executive chef.

Related: How To Become a Sous Chef

Common executive chef duties

The duties of an executive chef vary, depending on the size of the hospitality venue. Executive chefs in small to medium venues may have the responsibilities that head chefs have in large restaurants. Common duties of executive chefs may include:

  • creating recipes for the business

  • designing and planning menus that consider the availability of ingredients and kitchen budgets

  • establishing kitchen standards, including cooking standards, waste minimisation targets and cleaning goals

  • estimating menu costs, preparing kitchen budgets and approving purchases

  • tracking kitchen spending and preparation habits to make sure team members control food costs

  • monitoring kitchen stock levels and ordering new inventory

  • maintaining food safety documentation

  • collaborating with the restaurant manager on business strategies

  • meeting with the chef team and wait staff regularly to check their progress and hear any concerns

  • recruiting and hiring new team members

  • overseeing personal development programs and team members' progress reports

Related: How Much Does an Apprentice Chef Make? (With Duties and FAQ)

Skills that help executive chefs succeed

Executive chefs use a variety of technical skills to help restaurants run smoothly. Their soft skills help them work closely with the business's manager and team members. Hospitality venues give executive chef jobs to chefs with the following skills:

Cooking skills

While executive chefs spend little time cooking during the business's operating hours, their cooking skills help them create delicious menus. They understand how to showcase seasonal ingredients and create dishes that attract diners. Their cooking skills, including their knowledge of the best cooking times and temperatures, also help them write recipes that other chefs can reproduce consistently in the kitchen.

Understanding of hygiene and food safety regulations

Hygiene and food safety regulations help executive chefs create the business's standards. They understand regulations in their local area and best practices for handling and storing food safely. They encourage hand washing and thorough cleaning of all utensils and surfaces to maintain a safe kitchen.

Written and verbal communication

Strong verbal communication skills help executive chefs discuss business strategies with restaurant managers. These skills are also useful for explaining the business's standards to its team. Clear written communication skills help executive chefs create recipes for other chefs.

Organisational skills

Executive chefs use their organisational skills to perform a range of duties, such as planning menus, training team members in standards and creating and tracking budgets. Depending on the business, they may perform these duties for many outlets. Their organisational skills ensure all tasks are complete to a high standard.

Leadership

Executive chefs hold the most senior chef rank in a hospitality venue. The most successful executive chefs use their leadership skills to be someone their junior team members look up to. They are a positive presence in the business who supports junior professionals and has a clear vision for the company's future.

Mathematics

Mathematics skills help executive chefs estimate costings. They use their maths skills to set reasonable budgets and develop menus that suit the business's dining style and limitations. They can accurately estimate the cost of business expenses such as ingredients and cooking implements. They can also estimate the time preparing dishes takes and create menus that their chefs can execute in a reasonable time.

What is the average salary for executive chefs?

The average salary for an executive chef is $97,190 per year. Due to their seniority, an executive chef's salary is much higher than the average salary for a chef, which sits at $60,031 per year. There is some variation in the salary of executive chefs. For example, the executive chef of a hatted restaurant is likely to earn more than an executive chef working at a non-hatted restaurant. Well-known executive chefs, such as executive chefs who appear on television, also get above-average salaries. An executive chef's location and speciality can also impact their salary.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles