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How Long Does it Take to Become a Chef

30/04/2024

Becoming a professional chef is a rewarding but lengthy process. You may be wondering, how long does it take to become a chef? On average, you’re looking at 2-4 years of culinary training, plus several more years of hands-on experience before reaching the level of executive chef. We know how eager you are to start this exciting career path, so let’s go over the typical timelines to becoming an executive chef. By understanding what lies ahead, you can plan accordingly and ensure you have the passion and perseverance this career demands.

Keep in mind that we will describe the time-frames for becoming an executive chef, which is the highest position in the culinary hierarchy.

HRC Culinary academy

Phase 1: Learning to Become a Chef (2-4 years)

Starting in a Culinary School

If you want to be a chef, a culinary school or formal training program can be your first step. Keep in mind that these programs are intense and will teach you the basics you need to know to work in professional kitchens. Most culinary school courses last two to four years and cover topics like:

  • Cooking techniques across various cuisines
  • Food safety protocols and kitchen sanitation
  • Menu planning and costing
  • Kitchen management and operations

You’ll learn the basics of working in a restaurant or kitchen on your training course, which is great for getting you ready for the culinary industry. You can also specialize in areas like baking/pastry arts if you want to. While it’s a big commitment, you’ll learn the fundamentals to build your career around.

Apprenticeships and Internships

Culinary school programs typically include internships as a key part of the curriculum. Over the 2-4 year program, you’ll be required to complete internships where you gain important practical experience in real professional kitchen settings.

These internships can range from just a few months to a year or more. During this time, you’ll work under the guidance of experienced chefs and kitchen staff, applying the skills you’ve learned in the classroom to an actual working environment. You’ll get exposure to all aspects of running a restaurant kitchen.

Each culinary academy or school has different approaches to organizing internships. But if you were our student, then you would have two paid internships at prestigious restaurants in the US and Europe.

The first internship starts in the first semester — a 6-month paid professional work placement in Europe’s finest restaurants and hotels. The second is a coveted one-year culinary adventure in the USA, complete with a free J1 visa following the third semester. Check our internship program, if you want to find about more, and here is a video testimonial of how Mila had her internship in Amsterdam.

Phase 2: Start in the Culinary Industry (6-10 years)

Your First Entry-Level Position

After completing your culinary education and internships, the next step is to get a full-time position in a professional kitchen. Usually, future chefs start out as line cooks. As a line cook, you’ll be responsible for preparing certain dishes on the restaurant’s menu during service hours. This job will involve making the same dishes again and again, giving you the chance to perfect your skills.

This role will allow you to experience the organized chaos of a real kitchen. You’ll learn to follow food safety rules, effectively communicate with other kitchen staff, and manage your tasks during a lunch or dinner rush. This initial experience provides an invaluable foundation for advancing your skills.

Chef preparing food

Working Your Way Up

Once you’ve got some experience under your belt in entry-level roles, you can start working your way up the kitchen ladder. With experience, hard work, and some further training, you can gradually progress to more senior roles:

Line Cook → Station Chef → Sous Chef → Head Chef/Executive Chef

If you can show you’ve got what it takes to lead and think on your feet, you could be promoted to a station chef in two or four years. On this position you’ll be in charge of one part of the kitchen.

If you want to grow higher, then your next aim is getting a sous chef position. This is the right-hand man of the executive chef, as he manages daily operations and kitchen staff. Typically, it takes also from 2-3 years to become a sous chef, before you get to prove you can run the whole kitchen as executive chef. Here’s a look at the major milestones and approximate timelines:

StepsTimeline
Enroll in Culinary School
Complete Culinary Program2-4 years (including internships)
Work as Line Cook1-2 years
Promotion to Station Chef2-4 years after line cook
Promotion to Sous Chef2-3 years after station chef
Promotion to Executive Chef2-3 years after station chef

So, from line cook to executive chef, you could be looking at 6-10 years of hard work. It’s not that fast, but the position is really rewarding. Keep in mind that the exact timeline varies, as every individual case is unique. But with the right passion, perseverance, and a willingness to constantly learn you’ll be able to get fast that chef’s hat. 

young-female-chef-HRC_Academy

Are You Ready to Become a Chef?

The 10-15 year journey can seem daunting, but focusing on one milestone at a time is key. First, earn your culinary education through a comprehensive associate’s degree program. At HRC Culinary Academy, our 2-year Culinary Arts program provides you with a strong foundation through classroom instruction and global internship experiences.

Once you have your degree, you can enter the industry and work your way up to become an executive chef. It’s a long road, but it’s rewarding for those who have a passion to cooking.

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