How to Become a Cook

To become a truly successful cook, you must put in a lot of energy. It also helps, of course, if you are really interested in and passionate about food. The job is hard work–peeling and cutting vegetables, sautéing, grilling and baking–generally, toiling a lot in front of a hot stove. It is also a very rewarding and creative profession if you have a liking and the skills for it.

A cook is a professional with training in various kinds of food preparation. Cooks can be working in restaurants, cafeterias, fast food joints or private households, and each position needs individual, tailored training. Cooks undergo training for proper food handling and sanitation techniques as well as food preparation.

Here are things to do and consider if you want to become a cook:

Know Educational Qualifications: Often, a cook will need a diploma or GED. Some cooks and many chefs need culinary degrees gained from post-secondary programs. There are many vocational or trade schools that offer training along with sponsored apprenticeships in food service or culinary arts. There are degree programs for working in upscale and fine-dining restaurants. The American Culinary Federation offers 2- and 3-year courses with classroom teaching and practical work experience in basic as well as advanced culinary skills; it also offers apprenticeships.

Pursue Other Certificate/Permit/Training Courses: Often, it is necessary for a cook to get a food handler's permit. To gain a local license, a cook must pass a food safety exam. State education departments offer summer workshops and other food preparation training courses for career advancement.

Develop On-Job Skills: Along with possessing basic skills, cooks should know about nutrition and menu planning. A solid understanding of hygiene and food storage is a must. Getting trained in the use and care of kitchen equipment, cutlery techniques, international cuisine and other advanced cooking techniques that may be of use in commercial kitchens will give you an edge in landing better jobs. Specialization will also carry a distinctive advantage.

Understand Job Development: Some cooks skip formal training and start right off in apprenticeships as prep cooks, but it is difficult to learn everything on the job. A culinary institute or school gives a solid foundation for optimal career growth. After formal training, cooks can gain hands-on experience working as apprentices.

Analyze Career Growth: Working as an apprentice/prep cook may be the start of an upward career path. That position can lead to being a line cook; then an assistant chef; and finally, an executive chef. In 2010, salary at the entry levels may vary between $15,000 to $20,000 per annum. A chef's salary usually peaks at from $32,000 to $70,000 per annum. Maximum salaries depend on the cook’s qualifications and the size of the employing company, among other factors.

Explore Job Options: Short order cook, private cook, fast food cook, restaurant cook, head cook and chef are some of the positions available. Different types of training and specializations are needed for a faster career growth.  A private cook may work in houses or organizations and will be responsible for shopping and the maintenance of a kitchen as well.

Tips for Success: Upgrading your skills per latest trends, experimenting boldly and innovatively with new dishes, being dedicated and motivated for excellence and taking hard work and the fast-paced life in stride will make you a great cook.