The answer: It depends. What a professional chef earns depends on the type of chef he or she is, where the work is performed, and who’s the employer.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data
The closest occupational category at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is 35-1011, Chefs and Head Cooks. According to the May 2008 report, the mean annual wage for this group was $42,410. Ten percent of the 98,040 workers represented earned at least $66,680.
The top-paying industry was management of companies and enterprises, with an annual mean wage of $67,900. The lowest was limited-service eating places, with a mean wage of $33,690 a year. Workers in New York state earned the most, with a mean annual income of $58,390.
BLS did not include data from self-employed professional chefs.
American Culinary Foundation (ACF) survey
Survey results published in 2008 by the American Culinary Foundation (ACF) showed that the organization’s average member earned $54,100 a year. Certified executive chefs (CECs), certified executive pastry chefs (CEPCs), and those who held an even higher certification earned $10,900 more annually than other chefs.
Of the members who answered the survey, 89 percent were employed or self-employed on a full-time basis. The average work week was 50.2 hours.
The ACF survey indicated that only 6 percent of the members earned more than $100,000 a year. Eight percent reported earning less than $20,000. Thirty-eight percent earned between $20,000 to $49,999 a year. Almost half made between $50,0000 and $99,999 annually.
Big Gourmet Meals
Big Gourmet Meals stresses that no matter where a student was trained, he or she isn’t likely to become an executive chef overnight. The site describes the various categories of chef and the associated compensation.
Most professional chef wannabes start their training as a Commis Chef, or junior chef. This is when they learn culinary basics and decide if being a chef is the right career choice. Commis chefs perform preparation work like peeling vegetables, cleaning the kitchen, and putting out cookware and sauces. Their earnings usually top out at about $20,000 a year.
A Chef de Partie is also called a line cook. After finishing training in all the sections of a restaurant, he or she typically moves from a Commis Chef position to this one. A Chef de Partie cooks all the food for a designated section of the kitchen, such as pastries. The average compensation is around $30,000 annually.
The chief assistant to an Executive Chef is known as a Sous Chef. He or she has both culinary and administrative responsibilities. They can include running the kitchen if the Executive Chef is absent. To reach this level, an individual usually has worked as a Chef de Partie in several different sections. The average yearly salary is around $40,000.
Executive Chefs are managers, though they might do some cooking. The position involves hiring kitchen staff, determining various issues with the menu, and setting the kitchen’s budget. In effect, this chef defines a restaurant or kitchen. Although most earn around $70,000 a year, those with carefully strategized career goals can earn much more.
It’s impossible to put a price tag on the earnings of celebrity chefs such as Curtis Stone or Emeril Lagasse. Once a chef hits the big time, the opportunities for endorsements begin.