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Can a Felon Become a Chef?

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This blog post will address the issue of whether a felon can become a chef. Jobs felons once had are lost, and careers may be gone after finishing a sometimes lengthy incarceration.

Although it may seem as if no one will hire them, there are resources available.

This is the opportunity for felons to begin a new profession.

  • What is a Chef?
  • What Education/Training Does a Chef Need?
  • How Much Does a Chef Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Chef?

A chef is a person who creates the menu and is in charge of the food service in a restaurant or other eating establishment.

A chef is responsible for the activity in the kitchen and manages the personnel working there, including cooks and other kitchen staff.

A chef plans the menus and keeps current new types of cooking.

There are particular skills a successful chef possesses:

  • Creativity to make and modify recipes and design different presentations of food
  • Strong work ethic to work long hours and practice their skills daily
  • Manual dexterity to mix, slice, stir, and assemble various dishes
  • Physical endurance to stand and work long hours
  • Good memory
  • Communications and interpersonal skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Good time management
  • Stress management
  • Ability to multitask and work quickly

What Education/Training Does a Chef Need?

A chef often begins by receiving training or working under an experienced chef as a kitchen helper or cook.

These type of jobs provide education and hands-on training in how to prepare food and maintain a clean kitchen environment.

They also learn cooking techniques and knife skills.  Work with seasoning and blending flavors is essential in becoming a successful chef.

Some individuals may enroll in a culinary school and advance to receive a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree in culinary arts.  A culinary program can last from several months to four years.

Generally, it takes as long as five years, including completing a culinary program to become a chef.

No type of certificate or license is required to work as a chef.

There are a number of certificates available through sources such as the American Culinary Association or the Culinary Institute of America that can be beneficial to attain.  Attaining a certificate would demonstrate having met certain standards in education and training.

There are a number of different types of chefs, each indicating a level of experience or specialty.

The head chef in a kitchen is known as a master chef while the second in command is a sous chef.  Then, there is a chef de partie who is in charge of a particular area of a kitchen.  A beginning chef is called a commie.

The knowledge required to become a chef through a formal education program or on-the-job experience includes:

  • Food preparation
  • Cutting techniques
  • Care and use of kitchen equipment
  • Food storage
  • Health regulations
  • Menu planning
  • Management
  • Nutrition
  • Portion control
  • Purchasing

How Much Does a Chef Earn?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 416,000 chefs and head cooks in the U.S.  There is expected to be a 15% growth in this field by 2031.

The median salary for a chef in 2021 was $50,160.  The top 10% of chefs earned about $85,000 while the bottom 10% earned $25,000 or less.

How much a chef earns depends on experience, skill, and level of attainment as well as the area of the country where they work.

A chef on the West or East coast earns more than one in other areas of the country.  A chef working in a metropolitan area tends to earn more than one in a smaller city.

An Opportunity for Felons?

Becoming a chef is appealing to many felons because they may have worked in food services or the kitchen as a cook while they were incarcerated.

The knowledge and experience they gained might have started an interest in pursuing a career as a chef after their release.

Even culinary programs do not set specific guidelines.  Many programs don’t do a background check of applicants.

Admission to a culinary school depends on the school involved.  Some programs will consider a felon with high potential in spite of a felony conviction.

Individual decisions will rest on a case-by-case basis through review of the application or an interview with a board of committee members.

Simply graduating from a culinary program doesn’t make one a chef.  It is a beginning, but it still takes finding a job and working to become a chef.  Of course, completing a culinary program indicates having the education in the skills needed to become a chef.

There are a few culinary programs across the U.S. that are set up for and admit only felons.

The challenge for felons will be in finding a job as a chef.  Each employer looking for a chef will set their own criteria for hiring.  Most will conduct a background check just as for any job.

There are many employers willing to give felons an opportunity to work.  They know that felons often have cooking experience from prison and are accustomed to working a strict schedule and long hours in a hot kitchen.  Many employers are aware that felons make good employees.

For employers, there is a Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring a felon.

In order to be successful in their pursuit of being a chef, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background.  Lying about their conviction will prevent them from becoming a chef.

It is important to be honest in filling out any application.  If a felony isn’t disclosed but discovered on a background check, that constitutes fraud and is a punishable crime.

That could result in being sent back to prison.

They are already working with the often negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a chef.

Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that they have not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It may be a difficult road for a felon to travel in becoming a chef, but it could be worth it.

There are steps they can take.  First, having their record expunged could be helpful and make the difference in reaching their goal.

Then, it would be beneficial to document any programs, education, or training they have completed.

A felon can turn to those individuals who have been there for them throughout their journey.  Having support from family and friends along with current and previous employers would help.

A felon doesn’t have to be defined by their crime.  They have done their time and deserve to put the past behind them.  They can begin again and establish an honest life no matter how long it takes.

What do you think about this blog post?  Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a chef with a felony?  What was that like for them, and how did they achieve success?  Please tell us in the comments below.

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