How to Become a Chef Colorado

Chefs, cooks, food managers, bakers and pastry chefs are just a few of the culinary careers you can choose from if you learn and train in culinary arts in Colorado. The state is home to a thriving food scene, and the job market for qualified cooks, chefs and other food workers is expanding. With a solid education in culinary skills, you should be able to land a stable, enjoyable and lucrative job in a Colorado restaurant, hotel, school cafeteria or catering business. [En Español]

Requirements for Becoming a Chef in Colorado

There is no requirement to be licensed or certified to work as a chef in Colorado. There are also no degree or training requirements. It’s up to you to determine how you get into the industry, and there are two main options. One is to start at the bottom, working in a kitchen washing dishes or on the line, and work your way up, learning and training on the job. This necessitates finding a restaurant and chef willing to train you with your career goals in mind.

The other option is to attend a culinary school in Colorado. There is a wide variety of culinary programs to choose from, including two-year degree programs and shorter courses offering certificates and diplomas. You can start with a basic culinary arts education or specialize in pastry or management.

Culinary Arts Programs in Colorado

Choosing a culinary education before seeking employment is often a smart move. It means you may not have to start at the bottom in a kitchen, although you will still likely need to do some on-the-job training starting as a cook or sous chef. Colorado is home to several programs accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEFAC).

  • Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak has several culinary programs to choose from, including associate degree programs and certificate programs. Students can earn two-year degrees in baking and pastry, culinary arts, food service management, or sustainability and dietary cuisine. Certificate programs include baking, basic skills and food service management. The programs are ACFEFAC-accredited.
  • Pueblo Community College, Pueblo. Pueblo’s culinary programs are also accredited by the ACFEFAC. They include both a two-year associate’s degree and a shorter certificate program in culinary arts. Class sizes here are small, the learning is often hands-on in a real kitchen and courses are offered during the day and in the evenings.
  • Johnson and Wales University, College of Culinary Arts Denver. This Denver culinary arts program is not ACFEFAC-accredited, but it does offer students in the state’s largest city a great culinary education. Students can choose from associate degrees in baking and pastry arts or culinary arts, or four-year degrees in baking and pastry or culinary arts with food service management. There are also degree programs in culinary nutrition and culinary science and product development.

Certification and Licensing

There are no statewide requirements in Colorado to work as a chef or cook, but it can be a smart move to get national recognition for your knowledge and skills. Certification through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), for instance, proves to employers that you have the ability to do the job well. You can choose from 16 areas of certification, from fundamentals to executive chef. Certification requires passing an exam that includes a written and practical section.

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

In Colorado, a thriving culinary scene and a growing population ensure that growth in careers for chefs and cooks is strong. Growth in these careers between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 24.4 percent for chefs and head cooks, 21.6 percent for bakers and 32.7 percent for cooks.

Average salaries in these careers in the state are also good. A cook in Colorado earns, on average, $17.76 per hour and $36,950 per year, while a chef or head cook makes $24.52 per hour and $50,990 per year. The top 10 percent of people in these two fields earn impressive annual salaries: $49,040 for cooks and $72,790 for head cooks and chefs.

Working as a Chef in Colorado

The majority of chefs and cooks in Colorado work in restaurants and other facilities serving food to the public, but there are a lot of options. With the right education, you could work in a school, guiding nutrition and developing menus, as a pastry chef or baker, as a personal chef or caterer or even as a food service manager, running restaurants or cafeterias. There are many areas in Colorado with job opportunities for chefs and strong culinary cultures: Denver, Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, Fort Collins and ski resorts like Vail and Aspen

Popular Colleges

College Programs

Boulder, CO Area

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts-Boulder

637 S Broadway, Ste H, Boulder, Colorado 80305
(303) 494-7988
Baking & Pastry – Certificate Program

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers various Certificate program options for chefs. All programs are imparted at their Boulder campus in the city of Boulder. Most of the school’s 369 students are on diploma programs of under two years. The college is institutionally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training. Tuition fees are generally around $25,280 annually. Books and supplies can cost around $1,750, although this will depend on the program.

Colorado Springs, CO Area

Pikes Peak Community College

5675 S Academy Blvd, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906-5498
(719) 502-2000
Food Service Management – Certificate Program, Culinary Arts – Associate Program

Pikes Peak Community College offers various Certificate program options for chefs, a Certificate program and an Associate program. Classes are taken at their campus in Colorado Springs in El Paso County, CO. Most of the school’s 13,311 students are on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. Tuition fees for in-state students are generally around $3,536 and for out-of-state students approximately $13,730 annually. Books and supplies can cost around $1,800, although this will depend on the program.

Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO Area

Emily Griffith Technical College

1860 Lincoln Street, Denver, Colorado 80203
(720) 423-4700
Culinary Arts – Certificate Program

Emily Griffith Technical College offers various Certificate program options for chefs. All programs are imparted at their campus in the city of Denver, CO. Most of the school’s 4,144 students are on diploma programs of under two years. The college is accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. Fees for tuition are usually about $8,752 per year. Study materials can cost in the order of $750, depending on the program chosen.

Johnson & Wales University-Denver

7150 Montview Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80220
(303) 256-9300
Baking & Pastry Arts – Associate Program

Johnson & Wales University offers various Associate program options for chefs. All programs are offered at their Denver campus in the city of Denver. This is a full, 4-year private college with 1,388 students, of which 98% are undergraduates. The university is institutionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. Tuition fees are around $30,746 for each academic year. Study materials can cost roughly $1,500, depending on the program chosen.

Red Rocks Community College

13300 W Sixth Ave, Lakewood, Colorado 80228-1255
(303) 914-6600
Culinary Arts – Certificate Program, Culinary Arts – Associate Program

Red Rocks Community College offers various Certificate program options for chefs, a Certificate program and an Associate program. All programs are offered at their campus in the city of Lakewood, Colorado. The college has about 7,789 students in total, with most students on 2-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. The cost of tuition for in-state students is around $3,685 and for out-of-state students in the order of $13,813 per year. Learning materials may cost roughly $1,800, depending on the program.

The Art Institute of Colorado

1200 Lincoln Street, Denver, Colorado 80203-2983
(303) 837-0825
Baking & Pastry – Associate Program, Hospitality Food & Beverage Management – Certificate Program

The Art Institute of Colorado offers multiple training options, including an Associate program and a Certificate program. Classes are taken at their campus in the city of Denver. The majority of of the school’s 1,145 students are on 4-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. The cost of tuition is, as a rough guide, in the order of $17,628 yearly, while books and supplies may cost about $1,500, although this varies from program to program.

Grand Junction, CO Area

Colorado Mesa University

1100 North Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado 81501-3122
(970) 248-1020
Baking and Pastry – Associate Program, Bakeshop Production – Certificate Program

Colorado Mesa University offers multiple training options, including an Associate program and a Certificate program. Classes are taken at their campus in the city of Grand Junction, CO. This is a full, 4-year public college with 9,448 students, of which 98% are undergraduates. The university is institutionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. Tuition fees for in-state students are generally around $7,835 and for out-of-state students approximately $18,996 annually. Books and supplies can cost around $1,560, although this will depend on the program.

Pueblo, CO Area

Pueblo Community College

900 West Orman Avenue, Pueblo, Colorado 81004-1499
(719) 549-3200
Beginning Production and Baking – Certificate Program, Culinary Arts – Associate Program

Pueblo Community College offers multiple training options, including a Certificate program and an Associate program. All programs are taught at their campus in the city of Pueblo. The college has roughly 5,673 students in total, with the majority of students on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. The cost of tuition for in-state students is in the order of $7,121 and for students from outside the state in the order of $14,585 per year. Learning materials may cost in the order of $2,099, although this will vary with the program.

Western Colorado nonmetropolitan area Area

Colorado Mountain College

802 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs, Colorado 81601-0233
(800) 621-8559
Culinary Arts – Associate Program, Culinary Arts – Certificate Program

Colorado Mountain College offers multiple training options, including an Associate program and a Certificate program. All programs are taught at their campus in the town of Glenwood Springs. The majority of of the school’s 5,806 students are on 4-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission. The cost of tuition for in-district students is generally in the order of $1,768 and are $3,328 and $10,576 for in-state and out-of-state students respectively. Books and supplies can cost around $1,200, although this will depend on the program.

* Tuition fees and accredition status are correct at the time of writing, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/). Confirm with college before applying.

Neighbor States

Residents of Colorado may also wish to review their options in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.