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As tasty as your boxed Mac-n-Cheese may be, you’re probably not ready to get a job as a professional cook unless you have the education and experience.

Photo Credit: Sweetgreen

Whether you’re serious about becoming a cook or you’re thinking it might be a fun career path, we’ve outlined the process to make it easy for you to pursue your passion.

Here’s our four-step guide to becoming a cook in the Bay Area!

Step 1: Beginning skillset

The answer can be this simple: none. You can start with absolutely no skills, but here are some things that will make your road to becoming a cook a bit easier.

1. High school diploma or GED certificate

Most local restaurants simply require their kitchen workers to have at least a high school diploma or GED certificate. So if you haven’t obtained a post-secondary education, this may be the career path for you!

2. Basic knowledge of the kitchen

Understanding how to cook certain types of food will help move your career along, especially with meats. Learning how to safely handle knives is also a great skill to acquire in the beginning steps. Many introductory cooking jobs provide training, but knowing it beforehand will just speed up the learning process.

3. Passion and hard work

A little bit of passion and a whole lot of hard work are all you need to jump into the first step of a cooking career. It will take you a lot further if you are willing to put in the time it takes to build cooking skills and technique with training and lots of practice!

Photo Credit: Salt + Honey

Step 2: Training techniques

There are two paths that an aspiring cook can take to train themselves: Culinary School or hands-on experience... or both! Each of them has their perks depending on what type of cook position you’d like to take after your training.

1. Hands-on training

Often the recommended form of training, this cheap alternative involves you becoming a stage, or apprentice, at a local restaurant. You will probably start off as a dishwasher, but as you continue to work and gain more experience, you can work your way up to more advanced cooking positions.

The main advantage here is that you don’t have to pay for an expensive culinary education. The disadvantage is that you will mostly likely have to start off working for free. However, if you want the experience without the expense or aren’t sure if becoming a cook is right for you, becoming a stage is the right choice.

2. Technical schools & Culinary Arts Institutes

While attaining certification from a culinary institute is the more expensive option, it often makes it easier to move up in the ranks from general kitchen staff to a chef. Most culinary institutes and colleges with culinary programs will prepare you to work in different kitchen positions and restaurants within the industry.

If you want to pursue a culinary arts education, here just a few of the places in the Bay Area to check out: 

  • San Francisco Cooking School | San Francisco, CA
  • Jordan’s Kitchen | San Francisco, CA
  • Laney College Culinary Arts | Oakland, CA
  • Raw Bay Area | Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen on Fire | Berkeley, CA

a chef powdering pastries how to become a cook mr holmes bakehouse Photo Credit: Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Step 3: Finding a job

All prepped and ready to jump into the job hunt? Great! There are two main routes to take in finding a job as a cook: networking and staging at a local restaurant. Once again, both have their perks, so check them out below.

1. Network

If you attend a culinary school, your teachers or college may have some connections to get you a decent starting job. Take advantage of this and use it to find the right job for you.

2. Become a stage at your favorite restaurant

If you decide to learn on-the-job, the best strategy is to frequent your favorite local restaurants (especially the ones with “We’re Hiring” signs!) and ask the chef to take you on as a stage.

3. Apply to a job post

Localwise has hundreds of job listings at local restaurants! You can also check out Poached, which focuses on restaurant jobs or Snagajob, which mostly has jobs at chain restaurants.

Regardless of your approach, you will probably start off doing a bit of grunt work, but that’s just the business. The good news is that there is a lot of leeway to work your way up in the cooking industry.

Photo Credit: Sweetgreen

Step 4: Honing your skills

Even once you’ve gotten a job as an official cook, there is always room for improvement. Here are some quick tips on how to hone your skills as a cook.

1. Taste everything

This is probably the most fun part of the process! Not only does tasting ensure that you are preparing quality food, but it is also the quickest way to develop an extremely well-tuned palette.

2. Work on your hand and knife skills

Top chefs define hand and knife skills as one of the trickiest, but most useful tools of a cook. Simply put, you don’t want to cut yourself while you’re in the kitchen and you have to be able to prepare your food quickly and efficiently.

3. Experiment

Whether it’s adding some extra seasoning to your dish or trying to make unlike products (like oil and water) become one, it’s always better to take some risks with your dishes when you have the opportunity to do so. Experimenting lets you know what works when preparing food and, unfortunately, what doesn’t.

The cooking industry is extremely competitive and very rewarding. Nothing impresses chefs more than a hard-working individual who is eager to learn. If you want to become a cook, show your determination and seek out opportunities to learn. Happy cooking!

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