Is Being a Chef a Good Career? Pros & Cons to Working in Culinary Arts

Do you love experimenting in the kitchen, whipping up an amazing meal for family and friends, or checking out the latest and greatest restaurants in your city? If you have a passion for delicious cuisine, you may have considered a career in culinary or pastry arts. However, you might also wonder if working as a chef is a good fit for your lifestyle and personality.

A chef’s job is very different to your standard 9-to-5 office role; there are bound to be crazy hours, big personalities, and grueling physical requirements. However, being a chef also offers lots of creativity, flexibility, and independence.

Below, we’ll dig into the pros and cons of a career as a chef, and how you can determine if it’s the right fit for you!

Pros of Being a Chef

You Can Be Creative

Cooking is an incredible way to express yourself and share your passion with others. As a chef, you’ll have the opportunity to create new dishes, experiment with unique ingredients, and maybe even come up with your own restaurant concept someday. Culinary arts is an amazing field for individuals who want to showcase their creativity through food.

You Can Work for Yourself

If you’re an independent individual who values flexibility, culinary arts is full of potential. Restaurants are always seeking skilled cooks and chefs, so career opportunities abound when you’re ready to learn new techniques, move to a different location, or simply find a change of pace. You could also consider a career as a personal chef for even greater flexibility and freedom.

There Are Great Salary Opportunities

Once you climb through the kitchen ranks and put in some years into the industry, it’s possible to earn a comfortable salary as a chef. That’s particularly true if you land a job at a high-end restaurant, resort, or hotel.

What can you expect to make as a chef? As of 2019, Executive Chefs nationwide earn an average salary of $68,000 per year, though that number is higher in major cities like Los Angeles ($77,000 per year) and New York ($82,000 per year).

You Work with Talented People

A career in culinary arts is a great way to surround yourself with creative, motivated, and independent people—just like you! The restaurant industry is filled with incredibly talented individuals, and you’ll have the opportunity to receive mentorship and collaborate with other passionate chefs every day in the kitchen.

Cons of a Culinary Career

It Can Be Unstable

The restaurant business is notoriously fickle, and things can change at a moment’s notice. Many restaurants fail for reasons totally unrelated to food; a difficult landlord, a bad business deal, or one unfavorable review may mean you’re out of a job as a chef. This con can be especially scary if you have a family that relies on your income, so you’ll need to determine if you’re able to accept the risk.

You Will Work Long, Difficult Hours

Working in restaurants means working when people want to eat—even if that’s early in the morning, late at night, all weekend long, and likely on most major holidays. It’s not uncommon to work 10 to 12-hour shifts. Because chefs often have a challenging and inconsistent schedule, balancing a culinary career with a personal life can be tough.

Starting Salaries Are Low

While it’s possible to bring home a solid paycheck as an Executive Chef, most culinary professionals have to work their way through a variety of lower-paying jobs before they reach the top spot in a restaurant. Entry level cooks often start out making minimum wage, even at higher-end restaurants, and it can take years to make your way up through the ranks—so it’s important to be realistic about your salary early in a culinary career.

It’s Physically Demanding

Working in culinary arts takes a lot of energy, and you’ll likely have some scars to show for your years as a chef. In most kitchens, you’ll spend long hours standing and work with sharp knives, hot pans, and open flames. When thinking about a culinary career, make sure you’re physically capable of taking the heat before you step into the kitchen.

Is Being a Chef Right for Me?

After weighing the pros and cons above, you might still be unsure if a career as a chef is right for you.

To learn more about culinary arts, talk with friends who have cooked professionally, or sign up for one or two professional-level cooking classes where you can learn from experienced chefs, get a feel for working in a professional kitchen, and improve your culinary skills. Even if you decide that a career as a chef isn’t right for you, you’ll hone your abilities in the kitchen and be able to serve up spectacular meals for your family and friends!

Interested in learning more about professional programs for aspiring chefs at CulinaryLab? Find more details and our class offerings here.