How To Become A Professional Chef (or Should You)

WANT TO BECOME A CHEF, but aren’t sure how to go about it? Here’s help … from a couple of guys who have direct knowledge of the restaurant and institutional dining industries.

Phil Turner’s brother is a Chef, trained by the Royal Navy. He served as a Chef on nuclear submarines for 15 years, then went on to run a catering business as a civilian.

Chef Dennis Littley, a Chef’s Chef and a guy who has earned his stripes in the food industry, knows all about the profession. Chef Dennis spoke with me via a G+ Hangout from his home in Orlando, Florida. It would be tough to find someone more enthused about food.

My hope is that anyone seeking to become a Chef or thinking about becoming a Chef can garner a few takeaways here that will make the Dream clearer and more accessible.

Here are the questions I posed and the answers I received. Chef Dennis’ answers below are my interpretation of what he said, not a verbatim transcript. Phil responded on the MyBlogU Interview platform. The words are his own, with minor editing.

Q. What is the best way for someone to prepare and qualify for a job as a professional chef?

A. Phil Turner

Phil TurnerThe best way to become a Chef depends on how much money you need and how many commitments you have. The traditional way is through long and hard work with years of almost no money. I think the best way to train as a chef is to join the Navy (or Army) and be paid a living wage while you train.

A. Chef Dennis

I became interested in becoming a Chef by watching Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) on television. I loved how much fun he had — and people would moan when they ate his food. In college, I studied business and went on to manage institutional kitchens. Later, a friend introduced me to the love of cooking … and taught me how to “listen” to food (it will tell you what it needs). When one of my staff members told me a local Chef was seeking an assistant, I applied … and that began my career as a professional Chef.

Today, there are a plethora of culinary schools and plenty of qualified graduates. The best route now may be a combination of work experience and schooling. My suggestion is that an aspiring Chef first get a job in a working kitchen — even if the work is unpaid. Find out whether the career is right for you, before taking the plunge and paying tuiition. And when you do go to Chef school, make sure to choose an established and reputable institution.

Q. What personal attributes are important to someone who wants to be a chef?

A.’ Phil Turner

Personal attributes for a chef include a willingness to work your socks off, an ability to learn on the fly and a dose of creativity. You also need to be an exceptional organiser and highly skilled at delegating tasks. You will have a team of chefs working in your kitchen so you need to be a skilled trainer as well.

A.’ Chef Dennis

  • You must love food, or you will never be a great chef.
  • You must have stamina. The job requires long periods of standing.
  • You must be willing to experiment. My motto is, “If it didn't work and no one saw it, the it never happened.
  • You must be able to multitask and focus at the same time. Cheffs can cook four dinners at the same time on a stovetop, but maintain an appropriate focus on each. It like playing the piano.
  • You must have people skills. Being a Chef is not a good job for an introvert. A good Chef has to be a bit of a performer. If you can impress your staff, they can impress those they are serving.

Q. What are the pros and cons of working as a pro chef?

A.’ Phil Turner

Cons of working as a pro Chef:

  • Unsocial hours: working every night and weekend
  • Long hours: 6am – midnight if you run your own restaurant
  • Limited career progression routes: The only way up is to open your own restaurant and employ other Chefs, which requires a lot of capital and is a high-risk venture
  • High stress occupation during service hours: being dependent on assistants to create perfection to short deadlines

Pros of working as a pro chef:

  • You are doing something you love

A. Chef Dennis

Pros of working as a pro chef:

  • If you love food, you will always be doing what you love.
  • If you like people and like pleasing people, you will always be happy. When I eat by myself, it is plain and boring (mac and cheese from a box). When I cook for someone else, I let go and shoot to thrill them.


  • You probably won't make much money
  • The hours are long
  • You must work every holiday
  • Being a Chef is not always healthy for relationships … there’s not much time for that
  • Being a Chef can take its toll on the body

Q. What is the difference between a chef and a cook?

A.’ Phil Turner

A Chef is someone who creates original recipes and has a team of specialist assistant Chefs working at his direction.

A Cook is someone who works in a kitchen, follows recipes or just follows simple instructions to prepare meals. A cook may have a team, but the main difference is in terms of the level of creativity required onf the role.

A.’ Chef Dennis

It is a mindset. Call me either one. I am preparing food for you. If you worry about titles, you are worrying about the wrong thing. It is all about the skills. I am a foodie.

Authors note: My heartfelt thanks to Phil Turner and Chef Dennis. Without you, this article would not have been possible. May your experience benefit others. The world needs good food. For more information about training, you might begin with the most prestigious: New York’s Culinary Institute of America‘ for classroom training. Chef Dennis says it is incredible. Field training options range from pro-level assists like this one or hunting for your own start by inquiring at restaurants you admire.

Don Sturgill is a Writer, Dreamer, and Believer. He calls Oregon home and heads to the woods at every opportunity. Follow Don on Twitter @Don_Sturgill.


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