You can learn a lot from watching one of the many cooking shows that have become almost ubiquitous on your television viewing schedule. Aside from spicing up the fare that issues from your own kitchen, you can catch a glimpse (albeit a dramatized one) of how a professional kitchen is run. But if you’re interested in becoming a chef of some sort yourself, one thing that very few TV shows will tell you is who does what in a kitchen and how your love of cooking can translate into a career (hey, not everyone can get on a show to become the next top chef!). So read on to discover what your options are when it comes to a career in the culinary arts.
1. Executive/head chef. This position is at the top of the culinary food chain (so to speak). The head chef is in charge of the entire kitchen and everyone in it (from lesser chefs to servers). They set the menu and will often float around the kitchen to ensure that all tasks are being done accordingly and pitch in as needed. While executive chefs are well within their rights to dictate any and all tasks to underlings, they may opt to hand-select ingredients, cook a special item themselves, and even speak to guests as a way to introduce the menu or garner feedback.
2. Sous chef. The right hand of the head chef, people in this position are usually in training to become an executive chef. They are generally required to follow the head chef and take on any tasks he throws their way. They should be prepared to fill in at any station in the kitchen, including that of their boss should he happen to be absent.
3. Baker/pastry chef. A baker need not work in a restaurant setting (although their skills with dough and pastry make them a welcome and necessary addition to most kitchens). Many who choose this profession prefer to own, manage, or work in a strictly bakery setting where they have more control over the foods that are produced.
4. Saucier. The saucier is only common in certain restaurants (originating in French cooking) and is in charge of making all sauces (and sometimes dishes that rely heavily on the sauce). It is a fairly prestigious position as a good saucier can make or break a dish.
5. Commis. This is the lowest position in the kitchen and is generally the starting place for any aspirant chef. The commis does menial tasks like preparation (washing, chopping, etc.), but gains invaluable experience in all areas of the kitchen, from cooking to plating. By learning from others, the commis will be able to eventually move up and take on bigger responsibilities.
6. Sommelier. This is not exactly a cooking position, but is nonetheless important in the grand scheme of the restaurant. The sommelier is not required to handle food, but is instead charged with knowing which wine (or liquor) will best suit any dish as well as catering to the requirements of individual patrons when it comes to libations.
Of course, there are also plenty of positions available that don’t require you to be chained to the hierarchy of a formal kitchen. You may choose to start a catering business, become a personal chef to a family, or even become a dietitian to give advice on healthy consumption and meal planning. But if your dream is to work in some of the top restaurants in the world, even if you have to start at the bottom, you should consider some of the positions listed above as an alternative to throwing the dice by auditioning at the Food Network.