Despite the emergence in recent years of new and exciting food-based careers, the top job for many foodies is still to be an executive chef at a great restaurant. And this dream may just become a reality for food lovers with the right experience and a lot of heart.
"The key to being a good chef is being able to treat food with love, whether you're cooking for your mom or for 300 strangers per night," says Ari Gejdenson, chef of Acqua al 2 in Washington D.C. "It's tough sometimes, but that's what separates the good from the great in the kitchen."
Most executive chefs start in lower-level kitchen jobs and work their way up to the top. Many have formal training from a culinary institute, but some learn the trade by working for someone else. And this can pay off nicely. Although the median annual salary for chefs in the United States is about $39,000, executive chefs in upscale restaurants and hotels can earn $80,000 or more [sources: BLS, NRN].